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Drink of the Week: Vesper

Summit Sips VesperThis week I want to keep it short and sweet. The Vesper, or as some call it, the Vesper Lynd, is a drink named after a Bond girl. In fact, it's the only drink ever invented by a fictional character named after another fictional character. If this is all going over your head, the Vesper is the martini that James Bond orders in Casino Royale, and he later decides to name it after his love interest. Indeed, this is the drink that inspired the graphics for Summit Sips.

Vesper
3 oz gin
1 oz vodka
.5 oz Lillet Blanc

Combine in a shaker, add ice and shake to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Bond eyes his Vesper

Bond eyes his Vesper

For a completely fictional set of circumstances, Ian Flemming created a cocktail that is actually pretty good. As martinis go, this is an extra dry variation. It contains both gin and vodka, and instead of dry vermouth, Flemming specifies Kina Lillet. Unfortunately, Kina, which refers to quina quina, or quinine, is a version of the fortified wine that has not been available since 1986. This would have been a bitter, white wine aperitif with herbal notes and citrus flavors. Lillet Blanc is their newer formulation that is probably more accessible than the earlier Kina, but it lacks the bitterness one should expect for this cocktail. Nevertheless, you have to take what you can get, and for the Vesper, we use Lillet Blanc as it is today (until they decide to resurrect their old formula).

You may find as I do that this drink is better if it is stirred, rather than shaken, although 007 wouldn't have it that way. Stirring retains the crystal clarity of the ingredients and makes for a better presentation, whereas shaking breaks up the ice and introduces air bubbles that mess up the gem quality of the cocktail. But who am I to argue. In the movies, barmen do what they are told, and in this case, that means:

Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, a half measure of Kina Lillet, shake it over ice and then add a thin slice of lemon peel.

8 comments to Drink of the Week: Vesper

  • Randy, I missed this one and you hit on a favorite cocktail of mine, save for one difference: I usually ditch the vodka and just use more gin. Which would make it not a Vesper anymore, I suppose, but I like the impact of using all gin with the Lillet blanc.
    As for the current formulation of Lillet blanc, I've tried adding orange and/or grapefruit bitters as a way to evoke the more bitter nature of Kina Lillet. Though not quinine, the bitters help greatly.
    Thanks for covering these classic cocktails so well!

    • Rob,
      I have heard that Cocchi Americano tastes just like the original formulation of Lillet--the Kina Lillet this drink should contain. I haven't tried it myself, but I read about someone who owns an old bottle of Lillet that said they are the same. I'll be grabbing some as soon as I see it in a store.

  • Ian

    Tempus Fugit spirits has started making Kina De l'Avion D'or, which is a Kina Lillet reproduction. Suze could also be a good substitute, since it has a mild Cinchona flavoring.

  • Ian,

    It's been several years since I wrote about the Vesper. I have since made it with Cocchi Americano with success, but I tend toward Lillet most of the time. Have you tried Kina De l'Avion D'or? I am curious about how well it works in this and others such as the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

  • Michael Meyers

    Of the three best choices, of which I am aware, I like this drink made with either Cocchi Americano or TF Kina L'Aero D'Or (the kina formerly known as Kina L'Avion D'Or. I know... you can't tell the players without a program). Done with CA, the drink is seamless with nice lemony notes and and subtle bitterness to add just a little grip, but still like drinking sunshine in a glass. With the KLD, the citrus is skewed more toward bitter orange with a more assertive quinine presence; definately a more masculine attitude, and slightly less "polished", but man, does it put me in that Bond attitude!

    And BTW, if you want to make this in a size that is slightly more responsible than JB tends to be when drinking, I use the following, which are the exact proportions as the original.

    2 oz gin
    2/3 oz vodka
    1/3 oz kina

    • Thanks for breaking it down! I don't always have all of those options to do a side-by side comparison. I happen to be running out of Lillet again now, so I will probably replace it with CA. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Michael Meyers

    Also, regarding technique, I recently had this at a bar, done with the KLD and shaken, which would not have been my preference. But instead of stopping the bartender when I saw he was about to shake it, I thought "what the hell, let's see what it looks like that way". As you state, the resulting drink lacks the "crystal clarity" I'd like to see in a drink like this, but all the resulting aeration actually re-balances the components putting the bitterness of the kina much more forward. As the aeration dissapated over time, the more appropriate spirit forward character of this drink re-appeared. For the nerds among us it's probably worth the time and material to test this out. The only down side is because an aromatized wine like KLD is so efficient at holding aeration, by the time it pretty fully dissapates, the drink is less than ideally cold. And in spite of how Bond ordered the drink, it is obvious that the actual drink handed to him in Casino Royale, the movie, is stirred, not shaken.

    Which brings me to point number two. Like any true Martini or Martini variation, this drink is all about being very cold. Make sure your glass is as cold as possible, preferably freezer temperature. And start with a cold mix glass (like ice and water for a couple minutes) and give the drink a good long stir (45 seconds won't hurt anything). The higher abv of gin insures it won't wash out with excessive dilution, as long as you're not melting ice to chill your mix glass as well as the drink.

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