“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.” -Ian Fleming, James Bond, Casino Royale, 1953
And so began a decades-long obsession by Martini drinkers the world over with the phrase, “Shaken, not stirred.” One of Fleming’s most well known creations, aside from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and super spy James Bond, the Vesper is one of those drinks that has taken on a life of its own over the years.
Often confused for a Martini containing mostly of vodka, the drink is actually little more than a giant glass of very cold gin. The recipe was dictated through Bond to a waiter in the book exactly 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.”
Now, you’ve got to take a good look at this recipe for a minute, because there are two key problems with the drink. The first is a question of size: if you simply convert “parts” to “ounces”, you’ve suddenly got a very large drink on your hands. Even if you’re the world’s greatest spy, you’ve still got to contend with the fact that it’s going to take a 12-oz. Martini glass to hold all of this crap.
But then if we halve the recipe, we’ve got the world’s tiniest Martini, hardly enough for a licensed killer. So what’s a bartender to do? The only feasible option is to convert the recipe to metric. The ratio of 3:1:½ suddenly makes a heck of a lot more sense as 60:20:10 milliliters, which comes out to a much more reasonable 3-oz. cocktail.
The second, lesser problem is one of ingredients. I like to use Gordon’s London dry gin as prescribed by Fleming—easy enough to find. True Russian vodka can be procured, but if you have any disagreements with the Russian government you might want to pick up one of the original Russian vodkas, Stolichnaya. It’s now made in Latvia, so you can breathe easy. As for the Kina Lillet, that particular product is no longer made. But having tasted the original few years back, I can vouch for the flavor of the readily available Lillet Blanc in a Vesper.
Ordinarily I would strongly advise you stir this, and every other spirit-driven cocktail. But I’m going to recommend sticking with Fleming’s original directions and shaking the hell out of it. The result will be a crisp, ice cold Vesper even Bond would approve of.
• 60 ml. Gordon’s London dry gin
• 20 ml. vodka (I reach for Stolichnaya)
• 10 ml. Lillet Blanc
Combine ingredients and shake with ice cubes until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a large lemon peel.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
ANOTHER DRINK FROM JEFFREY MORGENTHALER