As 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.
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.