The Vesper

I’ve got a little gin research project going on that is due the end of February. The survey is simple and takes 90 seconds please help us out by completing the survey.

 Click here to take survey

Update: I seems that after inventing “the Vesper” Fleming was never really a fan: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/9/27/1348745314585/Ian-Fleming-writes-to-the-001.jpg

Ever since I first read Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale”, I have been captivated by the detail Fleming pays to the food and drink enjoyed by his well-known character. The Vesper, a drink of James Bond’s own creation which he enjoys in the casino in Royale-les-Eaux, is a perfect example of Fleming’s attention to detail.


Bond orders his first Vesper, an extract from Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953):


‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’

‘Oui, monsieur.’

‘Just a moment.  Three measures of Gordon’s, 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 pleased 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 slip.

-

The first Vesper I mixed used Gordon’s Green Gin, Grey Goose Vodka and Dry Noilly Prat Vermouth, which were the best ingredients I had on hand at the time. After my first glass I immediately developed an affection for the drink, but I knew it could be made better, it could be more authentic.

My first challenge was to find a bottle of Lillet to replace the Noilly Prat I had been using up to that point.  Before the 2006 film release of “Casino Royale”, Lillet was not as easy to find in the UK as it is today.  After an extensive online search and some telephone calls, I ended up taking a trip to Lillet’s UK distributor, arriving just in time to purchase their last two bottles.  At this point I discovered that Kina Lillet no longer existed and that I would have to settle for Lillet Blanc, at least for the moment.

The Vesper

Anyone who has looked into creating a more authentic Vesper will have probably come across David Wondrich’s informative article on the subject; this gave me a great start, but I wanted to go further. I identified three challenges:

1. Achieving the strength of Gordon’s Gin in the early fifties;
.
2. Achieving the strength of the vodka in the early fifties; 
.
3. Recreating the renamed and reformulated Kina Lillet.


With the passage of time, both Gordon’s Gin and vodka in general have become weaker, and so a Vesper made with modern ingredients just doesn’t have the same kick as the “large and very strong and very cold and very well-made” drink of the 1950′s.  After looking at a plethora of newpapers and magazines for Gordon’s Gin and vodka brand advertisments from the early fifties, I confirmed the following:

1. Gordon’s Export Gin

Gordon’s Export Gin (the variety most likely to have been used in France) was 94.4 proof (47.2% ABV); Given this information, I was delighted to find that Gordon’s still make an Export Gin at 47.2% ABV and eagerly asked the next relative travelling to the continent to pick me up a bottle.

.
2. Vodka of the Early Fifites

Vodka varied between 80 and 100 proof (40-50% ABV).  I took Mr. Wordrich’s recommendation and used Stolichnaya Blue (100 proof). There is some suggestion in the book that the vodka used to make the drink in the Casino was not made with grain-based spirit  rather a potato one. I have searched for a 50% potato vodka still made today but am still to find one. (Answers on a postcard please).

 So with the first two challenges behind me, only one remained; the final problem and probably the trickiest:

.
3. Recreation of Kina Lillet

Tasting reports suggest that the original Kina Lillet was more bitter than its contemporary, being more heavily flavoured by Cinchoma Bark, the main ingredient of quinine. In addittion sources at Lillet have told be that is was also more syrupy and viscous and was sweeter than the Lillet Blanc of today. I therefore established and experimented with four possible options:

1. Angostura Bitters - a method suggested by David Wondrich, add a few drops to the drink – although a convenient and tasty addition, the result was not as bitter as I would have liked, and the pink tint to the cocktail does not coincide with the pale golden colour of the drink in the novel.

2. Cocchi Americano – a substitute for the Lillet, this is a wine aperitif with a bitter kick and was recommended to me by Jay Hepburn of the Oh Gosh blog; once again, a trip to an obscure supplier was in order, but it was well worth a visit.  This is a tasty product in its own right and although it makes a good tasting Vesper, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, as the drink contained no Lillet, it wasn’t really a true Vesper.

From Left to Right: Stolichnaya Blue, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc, China Martini, Gordon’s Export gin

3.  Quinine Bark – A third alternative would be to add a little quinine powder or bark, either directly to the drink, or using it to create a Lillet infusion. I have now sourced some Cinchona Bark and have experimented a little with some success. I think getting the timing right for the infusion is  a bit tricky and also working out how best to sweeten the Lillet will take a bit to work out.

4. China (“kee-na”) Martini – a gift from a relative who had recently returned from Italy, this had sat unopened in the cellar for a few years.  On inspection, I discovered that it is a product made by Martini Rossi, heavily flavoured with Cinchoma Bark – how promising!  After testing various combinations, I found that a 50/50 mix of this and Lillet Blanc worked best, adding the level of bitterness that I sought, as well as the important pale golden colour described in the book. This seemed to be the closest I have come so far.

5. Jean de Lillet – a reserve version of Lillet Blanc, I cannot seem to find any concensus (even within the Lillet Company)m as to whether this is more or less similar to Kina Lillet than Lillet Blanc.

Although my quest for the authentic Vesper is ongoing, I feel that I have reached a milestone. Here is my somewhat work-in-progress recipe for a more authentic Vesper.

One More Thought

When you’ve spent as much time as I have thinking about this drink as I have you come up with some strange theories, here’s my favourite: The Vesper was that it combined three essential aspects of the book. James Bond, The British secret agent (GIN) The Russians whom Bond is fighting (VODKA) and the backdrop for their encounter, France (LILLET). Maybe the vodka undertones reflect the turmoil of the character?

Was this intentional or a happy coincidence? Who can say? But like I said I think it’s rather neat.


Keep In touch
Summer Fruit Cup’s Facebook
Summer Fruit Cup Twitter


About these ads
This entry was posted in #1 The Vesper, Vintage Cocktails and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , by DTS. Bookmark the permalink.

About DTS

partial to a martini? to a smoke-hazed gin joint & a perfect tipple poured with the style, swank & skill of a true aficionado? …then pull up your stool to the bar, prepare to stock up your cocktail cabinet & get ready to drink it all in as we introduce you to a stitch in times’ resident barman… David T. Smith is a drinks enthusiast currently residing in the U.K. a long-time fan of tasting & exploring various types of alcohol, he has a fascination for vintage spirits and cocktails, in particular their heritage & origins; this was strengthened last year when he presented a talk and accompanying monograph on the Martini. it was as a result of his research of this topic that he was introduced to drinks paraphernalia, & he is now the happy owner of a colourful collection of bottles, books, and gadgets from a wide range of eras… an avid believer in the validity and variety of personal opinion, particularly in the subjective area of tasting, he enjoys hosting tasting sessions for friends, constantly challenging them to find their own favourite tipple. in addition to all of this, he is also interested in economics, three-piece suits, board games & keeping alive the art of engaging in enjoyable conversation with a good glass of port whilst surrounded by pipe smoke… www.summerfruitcup.com Thanks to Analiebe for writing this rather flattering blurb for me.

14 thoughts on “The Vesper

  1. Pingback: Gin Garden / Establishment – CBD | Sydney Bar Zine

  2. That’s the gin I have at home! the only Gordon’s you can find here (the selection of gin available is extremely poor around here… if only it would become fashionable again!).

    Your recipe sounds really nice. Unfortunately I can only find Noilly Prat and other suspicious-looking vermouths… sigh.

  3. Mer, whilst Noilly Prat evidently isn’t Lillet it still makes a pretty good Vesper (it’s what I started out on) you’ll have to see if someone can send you some samples sometime.

  4. Thanks for this recipe, am enjoying it right now! Could find neither Lillet nor China Martini at my local liquor store here in Indiana. And no Stoli blue on this side of the pond, apparently? The manager here had not heard of it, although she did stock quite a variety of Stoli. Much to my shock, she did have the Cocchi Americano! Was I stoked to see that! The Cocchi Americano really adds a nice citrus kick. As a dry martini (Tanqueray) lover, have to say, really love this cocktail!

    • Thanks for the comment. If you can’t get Stolichnaya Blue – Smirnoff Blue is a good substitute. Also as a Tanqueray fan if you have the 47.3% variety that works very well in a Vesper.

  5. If my memory serves me, I believe the vodka used in Casino Royale was a potato vodka, although Bond said a grain vodka would be better.

      • Thanks for the recommendation; I have tried Vya Dry in a Vesper but it seemed too light (which may just be personal preference) a fine vermouth though. I also tried Dubonet Blanc with a similar result.

    • You’re quite right about the potatoes; which begs the question are we trying to recreate the actual drink he drunk at that point in time or what his preferred recipe would be? His preferred is with grain.
      I have tried to find a 50% Potato vodka for a true comparison but I’ve not been able to find one (despite numerous efforts).

  6. Pingback: The Vesper: it’s a can of worms (not literally) « Mountain's Malts & more

  7. try “VikingFjord Vodka of Norway” 4x distilled 100% potato – vikingfjord.com
    else maybe “Chopin Potato Vodka Polish” or “Chase English Potato Vodka”
    Skål!

  8. They just started selling Noilly Prat near me, and I am duly impressed with it!! Combined with Gordon’s Gin, BEST DRY MARTINIS I HAVE EVER TASTED!!! Put a combo of Gordon’s, Noilly, Denaka, and Angostura bitters together…..GREAT!! Plan to try this recipe when I get paid this Friday, as I know a couple of State Liquor Stores (in Ohio, USofA) that sell Lillet. May have to order the China Martini mix, but I’m trying recipes….got this page bookmarked!!

      • I’ll seek it out. I got hold of some Cocchi Americano and Lillet Rouge at a substantial discount via a twist of luck. Made “Vespers” with both. Loved the classic taste of the cocktail with the Cocchi. The Lillet Rouge made a cocktail that doesn’t have any bitter aftertaste, but could be good for friends who don’t like a bitter drink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s