While James Bond is known for his martini (shaken, not stirred), it wasn’t his only tipple of choice. Readers of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel “Casino Royale” will recognize the Vesper cocktail—a more bitter take on the martini.
Named after his love interest, and (spoiler alert) double agent, the original recipe from Bond was as follows: “’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.”
If you’re thinking, wow, that sounds boozy? You would be correct. But I updated the recipe to balance out the booze while still keeping it true to its roots.
The Bitter Element
While no one can have a true Vesper cocktail today, as Kina Lillet was discontinued in the mid-1980s, there are 2 bottles that you can use as a substitute to get a similarly bitter-laced dry martini.
First up is Lillet Blanc, which is technically Kina Lillet with the quinine removed. It has some of the fruity, herbal taste from the fortified wine, but, with no quinine, it is significantly less bitter. To counteract this discrepancy in flavor, a few dashes of Angostura bitters are recommended.
Another bottle, and my preferred choice for this drink, is Cocchi Americano. Cocchi Americano has been in production since the late 19th century in Italy, but came into popularity in the US during the cocktail renaissance of the mid-2000s. While it’s hard to know for sure, many cocktail historians agree that the flavor is very similar to the now-extinct Kina Lillet, making it a perfect choice for the Vesper.
Choosing Gin and Vodka for the Vesper
The other two bottles here are pretty no-nonsense. Use your favorite London Dry gin here—Gordon’s is fine if you’re following Bond’s recipe, but Beefeater or Ford’s gin will keep the heavy juniper flavor profile intact while not adding too many other botanicals into the mix, which could throw off the whole drink.
Same for the vodka; use your favorite (non-flavored please!) bottle. I like Tito’s here, but any medium to higher price point bottle works, too.
Stir, Don’t Shake
I recommend you steer away from Bond’s advice about shaking martinis. Shaking waters down the drink and dulls the flavor in a Vesper.
Stirring will give you enough water from the melting ice to dilute the drink without watering it down. Once your drink hits the cocktail glass (“V” style or coupe), top it off with a strip of lemon peel to add a complementary citrus aroma that rounds out the whole drinking experience.