Friday, October 31, 2008

The Vesper - new Bond movie - my new cocktail

I have been a traditional, straight up gin and vodka martini fan for a long time, but while on my travels to London, I had drinks with a friend at the bar of the Oxo Tower and discovered another classic that has recently turned my fancy. The Vesper. One note of interest on the location - the bar and restaurant have lovely views of the Thames and St. Paul's - honestly though I was focused on catching up and enjoying my cocktails. For the uninitiated who are not Bond fans, the Vesper is a drink that was created by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale. It is basically gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc with a twist of lemon.

Upon my return stateside, I found the original quote from the 1953 Ian Fleming novel describing the drink:


"A dry martini," [Bond] 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."


-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale


My research also discovered that one challenge in making classic cocktails from a by-gone age is that alcohol has changed over the years. Kina Lillet is no longer available, but Lillet Blanc is the best substitute. Apparently though, there was a bitter component of Kina that no longer exists in Lillet Blanc, which is where Quinine Powder or bitters come into play. I have seen recipes for Angostura bitters, but in my latest version, I tried Orange bitters with much success. Another change is the level of alcohol in todays spirits. The gin and vodka have much lower alcohol today, so for a truer taste try 100-proof vodka and Tanqueray gin. I also substituted a classic martini shaped glass for the goblet - but I also have smaller, classic sized cocktail glasses as I cannot stand the large pint sized glasses that are generally found in most bars. In typical Bond fashion, he also asks for the cocktail to be shaken. I am a proponent of stirring this cocktail as it results in a more crystal clear, clean looking drink.

Esquire published an article in November, 2006 by David Wondrich
that provided some nice background information for me (see here).

The Oxo Bar makes their Vesper with the following ingredients:
Stolichnaya vodka shaken with Beefeater London gin & Lillet blonde vermouth, orange twist. It was a very pleasurable first cocktail of the evening - refreshing, exciting, and adequately alcholic.

My home version has been made with variations of gins (Hendricks, Plymouth, Tanqueray) and bitters (Angostura, Regan's Orange). My favorite concotion so far is Tanqueray gin (3 parts), Stoli Gold Vodka (1 part), Lillet Blanc (1/2 part), dash of Regan's Orange Bitters.

Incidentally, for my second cocktail at the Oxo Bar, I tried the Northern Light which consists of Ketel One vodka with a rinse of smokey Laphroaig 10 year malt, doused with Noilly Ambre and orange bitters. This is definitely a martini for smokey scotch lovers - there is enough Laphroig to bring out the smokiness and peatiness, but it is nicely "diluted" by the vodka and rounded out by the Noilly.

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