It's fascinating how literature has steadfastly moulded our cultural preferences, even with respect to cocktails. Some of history’s most iconic cocktails have come from the pages of literature. Case in point? Mojito and the Vodka martini, which are synonymous with the suave and sophisticated image of a certain fictional British secret agent. No points for guessing, though. Ian Fleming's mighty pen immortalised not just James Bond, but also his signature drinks.
In Fleming's Casino Royale, his 1953 debut James Bond novel, our man 007 doesn't just settle for a regular dry martini in a “deep champagne goblet.” He dives headfirst into mixology with a flourish.
“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? ... This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I think of a good name.”
Voila! Bond declares it his creation, an "excellent" special martini. Later, he christens this concoction Vesper, after his romantic interest Vesper Lynd. Fast forward to 2006, and Daniel Craig is shaking, not stirring, things up as Bond in the film adaptation, bringing the cocktail scene to life. Why is the Vesper Martini so famous? Well, credit that to the Bond series' runaway success.
However, Fleming didn't actually craft the Vesper Martini; it was his friend Ivar Bryce, as Fleming noted in a Casino Royale inscription: "For Ivar, who mixed the first Vesper and said the good word." While the cocktail's name was Fleming's brainchild, the idea sparked during evening drinks when a butler announced, "Vespers are served." Fleming, seizing the pun on the religious observance around sunset, "Vespers," found it fitting. Bond himself acknowledges this, praising the name as "very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world."
Since the discontinuation of Kina Lillet, the fruity and spicy apéritif wine from Bordeaux used in the original recipe, in 1986, it's impossible to faithfully reproduce the Fleming-Bond cocktail. Yet, the 2006 film adaptation stays true to the novel. Bond, ever the cocktail maestro, hands the bartender the same recipe as in the novel. When Vesper playfully questions if he named the drink after her due to its "bitter aftertaste," Bond smoothly responds, "because once you have tasted it, you won't drink anything else."
The recipe for the Vesper Martini, as devised due to the absence of Kina Lillet since 1986, calls for 45 ml of gin, 15 ml of vodka, and 7.5 ml of Lillet Blanc. However, some aficionados argue that Lillet Blanc falls short as a substitute for Kina Lillet because it lacks the distinctive quinine that imparted a unique flavour to the original concoction.
Interestingly, vermouth – the one key ingredient that defined martini during Fleming’s era – was absent from Bond’s concoction.
Add the gin, vodka and Lillet blanc into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Express the oils from a lemon twist over the drink, rub the twist along the rim of the glass and drop it into the cocktail.