Posted: January 15, 2023 in Cocktails, drink recipes, Drinks, Food, MARTINI, mixology, Recipes
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I’m planning a trip to London with my daughter this April, and we’ve got quite a list of things to do. One of the top things on my list is to pay a visit to the renowned Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel, where, as legend has it, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, not only came up with the phrase “shaken, not stirred,” but also created the now-famous Vesper martini. Once I heard that, it became a must-go-to destination on my trip. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy a Vesper and its history, shall we?
At first, it seemed almost silly to try to make one…but the classic James Bond martini has always fascinated me. I’m not talking about the clichéd Sean Connery “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.” I’m talking about the real James Bond martini, which appeared in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel “Casino Royale” and only appeared in the 2006 “Casino Royale” motion picture starring Daniel Craig (the best Bond of all, if you ask me.)
To quote the novel:
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’ ‘Oui, monsieur.’ ‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’ ‘Certainly, monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleasant with the idea. ‘Gosh that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter. 
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating.’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.’ 
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip. 
‘Excellent,’ he said to the barman, ‘but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.’ 
Bond named this drink the Vesper martini, after the character Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Ursula Andress in the 1967 adaptation, and Eva Green in the 2006 adaptation of “Casino Royale.”
My first homemade version of this classic drink remained true to the measurements of the original, though I changed brands due to personal preference. In the novel, Bond just asks for “vodka.” (Of course, this was back in the 1950’s when we didn’t have hundreds of brands to choose from!) My choice for best-bang-for-the-buck grain vodka is Tito’s, made from corn. But an excellent choice for wheat-based vodka is Grey Goose.
Bond asks for Gordon’s gin. I’m partial to the floral notes of Hendrick’s. Again, in the 50’s, what good British agent wouldn’t drink Gordon’s?
And the original Kina Lillet had its recipe changed in the 1980’s to keep up with the times by reducing the quinine, which made it bitter. (Kina refers to the quinine, so it was removed from the label when the quinine was removed from the formula.) The French aperitif wine, Lillet, is today’s version: a blend of wine grapes, oranges, orange peels and quinine. Lillet is not a vermouth, though you’ll find it in the vermouth section of your favorite liquor store. With the rise in popularity of the Vesper martini, many bartenders and aficionados claim it’s just not the same without the original Kina Lillet formulation, and a search began to find a better substitute, one with a more pronounced quinine assertiveness.
ingredients again
Enter Cocchi Americano, an aromatized wine also found in the vermouth section of many liquor stores. With its quinine-forward recipe, Vesper fans claim it comes closer to the original Kina Lillet. Add a more London-style dry gin to the mix, like Bombay Sapphire, and you just about nail the cocktail Bond created all those years ago.
So…with measurements true to Bond, may I suggest two versions of the same cocktail!
My original, more floral, version…
3 oz. Hendrick’s gin
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Tito’s or Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Lillet
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. I’m happy with a lemon peel or olives with this combination.
The version closer to Bond’s original, which is equally wonderful in its own right: crisp and refreshing, a strong drink with a hint of bitterness from the quinine. Dangerously addictive!
3 oz. London dry gin (like Bombay Sapphire)
1 oz. grain-based vodka (like Grey Goose)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano
Combine these over ice in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain it into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a large, thin lemon peel.
With the rising popularity of the Vesper martini, and the use of Cocchi Americano instead of Lillet, the makers of Lillet now claim they “never removed” the quinine from their original recipe. Many feel this is an outright lie, (back-pedaling a bit, aren’t we?) because they themselves stated they changed in the formula back in the 80’s. A little too late now for them to re-formulate. Cocchi Americano has become the go-to with many bartenders (and myself) when recreating this classic cocktail. I no longer stock my bar with Lillet.

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