James Bond’s Vesper Martini

James Bond’s Vesper Martini

Every James Bond fan knows this cocktail as the first martini that Bond ordered in Ian Fleming's 1953 book, Casino Royale (or the 2006 movie). Named after the seductive double agent Vesper Lynd, who tempted Bond, it's possibly the most famous drink order in history.

James Bond's Vesper martini cocktail with a lemon twist

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Recreating the Vesper martini at home is easy, but it also requires interpretation because one of the key ingredients, Kina Lillet, no longer exists (more on this below).

The Vesper is a fascinating cocktail. Compared to the gin martini, it has a slightly sweet, bitter taste contributed by Lillet, while the vodka tames the gin’s botanicals. It’s a drink that both gin and vodka drinkers can appreciate.

Is the Vesper Martini a Real Drink?

The Vesper was purely fictional. As mentioned above, it was created by Ian Fleming for his first book about the now-famous British Secret Intelligence Service agent, and it's become known as the iconic "James Bond martini."

As any devotee of the books or movies knows, Bond is very fond of fine cocktails, and this was certainly not the last drink in the series. In fact, the Vesper received just that single mention, and vodka and gin martinis were served far more often as the books and movies became popular.

The Vesper, By the Book

Here's how to make the Vesper according to Ian Fleming's character, James Bond: Gordon's, vodka, and Kina Lillet shaken very well until ice-cold. Pour it into a chilled cocktail glass and serve immediately, topped with a thin slice of lemon peel.

Why You Have to Adapt the Original Vesper

The Vesper is a very potent cocktail, and Fleming (er, Bond) is very particular about two ingredients you can't get your hands on now. Kina Lillet is no longer available, and gin has changed significantly since the '50s, so the original formula requires adaptation.

What to Sub for Kina Lillet: The Hallmark of the Original Vesper

The Kina Lillet (pronounced lee-lay) that Bond speaks of is a French aromatized wine that’s no longer produced. It included quinine, which is also used in tonic water, which adds a bitter note. Lillet Blanc replaced Kina Lillet, which also originally included quinine, but that ingredient was removed in the 1980s.

Today’s Lillet Blanc is softer and similar to dry vermouth (a fortified wine), only noticeably sweeter without the bitterness. Either Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth will make a delicious Vesper martini.

What’s the Best Gin and Vodka for a Vesper?

The Gordon's Gin available in the U.S. today is different than that found in the United Kingdom. Neither is the same Gordon's that Fleming refers to because the strength has changed.

While Gordon’s is a good everyday gin, there are now plenty of better options to choose from. Nearly any top-shelf gin with a bold botanical profile will make a nice Vesper. Many people prefer Tanqueray or Beefeater, though some like the fruitier Plymouth Gin.

As for the vodka, use your favorite kind, and don't worry about the strength.

Shaken, Not Stirred

Anytime there's a debate over shaking versus stirring cocktails, one can't help but think of Bond's famous line, "shaken, not stirred." It first appeared in Fleming's 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever. Bond drank many gin and vodka martinis, and shaken cocktails seemed to be his preference.

However, the general bartending "rule" is to stir liquor-only cocktails to avoid too much dilution. But in the Vesper's case, shaking may be a good thing because it ensures extra dilution in this stiff drink.

“Regardless of the mystique surrounding it, the Vesper is a darn good cocktail. Its composition is unlike other martini variations as it combines gin and vodka. Seems arbitrary, but it works quite well. The vodka tempers the botanicals in the gin and gives the cocktail a pleasant levity.” —Tom Macy

James Bond Vesper Martini garnished with lemon twist A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces gin

  • 1 ounce vodka

  • 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc, or dry vermouth

  • Lemon peel, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    James Bond's Vesper martini ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine 3 ounces gin, 1 ounce vodka, and 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth.

    Ingredients being poured into the cocktail shaker for James Bond's Vesper martini

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  3. Add ice to a cocktail shaker, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

    Straining the Vesper martini into a glass

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga 

  4. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel, for garnish. Serve and enjoy.

    James Bond's Vesper martini with a lemon twist

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Feeling Adventurous? Try This:

To bring back the Vesper’s hint of bitterness:

  • Swap out the Lillet Blanc for Cocchi Americano—Which carries the bitter note of the James Bond-era Kina Lillet.
  • Use aromatic bitters—Lillet Blanc with about 3 dashes of bitters should do the trick.

How Strong Is a Vesper Martini?

It’s said that vodka in the ’50s was often bottled at 100 proof and that Gordon’s was 94 proof at the time (it’s since been reformulated and is 80 proof in the U.S.). Factoring those numbers in, the Vesper could easily be a 39 percent ABV (78 proof) cocktail. That’s equivalent to a straight shot of most vodkas on the market today. It’s also worth noting that this recipe creates a nearly 5-ounce drink with proper dilution, which is almost double the average alcohol-only martini.

Comments

No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *