Vesper Martini

Vesper1As I’ve probably said about a dozen times now the “real” James Bond martini is not just a vodka martini (shaken not stirred).  The original and recognized drink of 007 is the Vesper, a drink he essentially created on the spot during the course of Casino Royale and named for the traitorous double agent Vesper Lynd.

There’s a lot of history on this drink, including a great deal of debate as to whether Ian Fleming created the drink or simply encountered it, but in 1953 Bond uttered the following:

“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?”

In the course of trying to recreate this drink there are a number of factors that could make any number of difficulties but let us look first and foremost at the recipe.

3 oz Gordon’s Gin
1 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Kina Lillet

If you’ve been following my little scribblings here at all you can already see at least one problem.  The drink was created in 1953 and since that time Lillet has reformulated their line giving Lillet Blanc and entirely different flavor than what Fleming might have gotten from his buddy Ivar Bryce.  It has been intimated that Cocchi Americano is an acceptable and equal substitute for our lost Kina.

Another factor comes into play here, Gordon’s Gin was also reformulated at one point for the UK domestic market.  Gin is an incredibly complex spirit and even the slightest change is likely to result in a big flavor difference.  In the UK modern Gordon’s is an 80 proof Gin, the more traditional Gin is 94 proof.  I’m told reliably that the version exported to America is 94 proof but it is a good idea to check your gin before you mix if you want to be “authentic”.

Next up we have the vodka.  Bond recommended a grain vodka as opposed to a potato vodka.  I think in the US right now you’re actually more likely to find a grain vodka than a potato one.  After doing some research it also appears that vodka in the 50′ s was far more likely to be 100 proof.  Modern vodka tends more towards 80 proof.

Combined together we see that Bond was asking for a much stronger drink that what we might make with off the shelf bottles. Stoli makes a premium 100 proof vodka today which I gather would be the vodka of choice in trying to make this work.

So updated for the modern age the recipe might resemble something like this:

3 oz Gordon’s Gin
1 oz Stoli Premium Vodka
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

Sadly I lack any of those ingredients.  What I do have is a perfectly good bottle of Lillet Blanc slowing losing flavor in my fridge.  So we improvise.

3 oz Aviation Gin
1 oz Crater Lake Vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
Thick slice of lemon peel twisted

 

On first sip I can say that I’m not a fan.  This is a huge, heavy drink without any of the bells or whistles.  It’s also a lot of gin, and I’m a big fan of gin.  The drink is heavy and doesn’t move along any flavor.  It may be that I’m using aviation, which is not a dry gin but I think this needs some tweaking for my taste.  I power through this one and step back up to the shaker.

vesper2

Version 2: Here I went with slightly less gin, closer to 1.5 oz than 3.  Still an ounce of vodka but I upped the Lillet to a full ounce.  The shift is remarkable.  For starters I don’t feel like I’m drinking a fishbowl of booze.  For another the fruity notes in the Lillet are coming in loud and clear.  The vodka is doing the job of keeping the gin’s wilder tendency in check, and the Gin is dancing the fandango all around the herbal components in the Lillet.

I can’t say I’m going to make any more of these once my Lillet runs out, they’re simply dull.  But as a change from the Gin and Tonic they’re a temporary diversion.

Mai Tai

Maitai

One of the hallmarks of Tiki culture in the 50’s and 60’s was the cocktail done polynesian style and of those none was so famous as the Mai Tai.  The name is a corruption of the tahitian word Maita’i which means really good and from the couple of these I’ve made so far the name is well earned.

A search of the net revealed no less than eleven versions of this drink.  This is not surprising, once you get more than three ingredients into a beverage there is going to be a lot of flex in the production.  One night someone runs out of lime juice and all of a sudden you have to scramble for something similar, bam new formula.

 

My own recipe comes partly from necessity and partly from laziness.

1 oz white rum (for this run I used baccardi)
1.5 oz blue Curacao
0.5 oz Orgeat Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Spiced Rum (Captain Morgan)

Shake everything but the spiced rum in a shaker over ice and strain into a glass.  Float the Spiced rum on top, garnish with maraschino cherry.

Most of the original formulas call for orange Curacao but blue is the same product with a flashier color.  Orgeat (pronounced or-ZHA) is an almond syrup with some other things like orange flower water in it.

What the various versions of this drink have in common is Rum and sweetness.  The few with the closest claim to the original use two kinds of rum and the effect here is certainly worthwhile.  It has inspired me to find a dark un-spiced rum as well as to finally pick up that bottle of Demerara rum I’ve been pondering.

In sweetness the variations waffle back and forth.  Orgeat isn’t a common kitchen ingredient and unless you’re running a coffee cart or tiki bar it’s the kind of syrup that just hangs around because you don’t use it for non-tiki related cocktails that often.  If you can’t find Orgeat look for Torani Almond.  I have it on good authority that they’re the same thing, they just changed the label because they got tired of people asking what Orgeat was.  Many of the other formulas call for simple syrup, rock candy syrup, amaretto or even Falernum.  I haven’t had a chance to try Falernum yet but it’s showed up in a half dozen things I’ve been reading lately so it’s worth the time to hunt some down.  What they all have in common is sweetness and a cherry/almond flavor which is the hallmark of the tiki in this case.

What many of the other variations have in common is citrus.  Lime juice is a given, that’s going to cut your alcohol taste and let the rum flavors shine.  Some people cut down on the syrups and change out for grapefruit and lemon juice.  The dirty way to get around a lot of that is sweet and sour mix, which is really just lemon, lime and simple syrup.

In that same citrus category is the Curacao.  Variations calling for cointreau, triple sec and even orange rum are all known but the intent is the same.  There needs to be the essence of orange peel in the mix and one of these is the way to get that.  Curacao and Triple sec are essentially the same animal.  The peel of the bitter lahara orange steeped in some kind of alcohol and distilled.  With Curacao it’s a brandy base for triple sec it’s usually a neutral spirit.

My standard drink of choice at unknown bars right now is the kamikazi.  There’s really very little to screw up and you can always count on vodka and triple-sec.  I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t been cheating myself by not going with a rum and triple-sec concoction instead.

If I had this drink to do over I for sure would use better rum.  I think my next version will use cointreau instead of curacao since I have some left and it’s a better product than the cheap curacao I can find locally.  Also I want to get my hands on some real maraschino cherries.  I’ll tell you why in another post.

Botticelli: Drink Review – Turning Prayers into Sins

botticellidrink

The Third of my drink reviews from my trip to Oven and Shaker is the Botticelli.

1 oz Vodka
1 oz Aperol Italian Bitters
0.25 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
2 oz Cava

Now if you’re like me at least two of the ingredients on that list are a bit unknown.  Aperol is similar to Campari at about half the strength, a bitter orange liqueur with a reddish coloration.

Cava is a sparkling wine produced in Spain.  Since it’s not from the Champagne region you can’t call it Champagne so it gets a more regional appellation but the taste and concept are pretty similar.

Like the French 75 this takes some citrus and a good quality spirit and adds bubbly to the mix.  Only here we have a much more complex blend of flavors and colors.  I like the pink hue that comes out of the Aperol and the drink itself is very well balanced on the tongue.  It isn’t really complex and doesn’t challenge any expectations.  Very light on the alcohol taste, the citrus sees to that but the overall made grapefruit juice taste good which for me is a miracle in itself.  As billed on the drink menu this is a Fresh and light drink, good for early on when you’re not sure you want something that is going to sour you on dinner or lunch.

Lacking two of the major ingredients i’m not likely to make one of these at home without some major modifications and that would take some experimenting that I don’t really want to do.

I would buy another the next time I go to Oven and Shaker but their list of awesome drinks has at least another 10 that I haven’t tried yet and this one isn’t fantastic enough to bring me back on its own.

5/5 Shakers on this one, brilliantly executed.