Drinking like Bond
If you’re familiar with Ian Fleming’s introductory James Bond novel, Casino Royale, and the 2006 film with the same name, you already know that the director Martin Campbell took a few creative liberties to keep the film contemporary. But when it comes to Bond’s signature martini, Campbell and the film’s team of screenwriters stayed true to Fleming’s story: The secret agent orders one dry martini, served in a deep Champagne goblet, made of three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, and a half measure of Kina Lillet; it is shaken until ice cold and finished with a thin slice of lemon peel. But there’s more to know about this famous martini, especially if you intend to make or order one for yourself.
On most cocktail menus, the Vesper martini is described as a vodka-and-gin martini that is accented by Lillet and garnished with a lemon peel. At first glance, the drink appears to be just as Fleming conceived it, but according to Rene Hidalgo, head bartender at Lantern’s Keep in New York, there’s one egregious oversight that imbibers must correct. Lillet, he explains, is not the same as Kina Lillet, a fortified wine with a bitter finish thanks to the presence of quinine. The Lillet company modified its product decades ago to create Lillet Blanc, which replaced Kina Lillet and also eliminated any hint of bitterness. “The Lillet that’s on the market now is much more delicate,” Hidalgo says. “It’s more floral and a bit sweeter. Kina Lillet was sharper with a bitter backbone that supported it.”
All is not lost, however. According to Hidalgo, Cocchi Americano is a white-wine aperitif that delivers a quinine kick Lillet Blanc no longer can, and it produces a Vesper martini that Fleming would appreciate. “It’s a much more complex and interesting drink with the Cocchi,” Hidalgo says, adding that the aperitif can be found in most high-end liquor stores. “You just have to know what you’re looking for.”
As for James Bond’s famous instructions—“shaken, not stirred”—most barkeeps will take mild offense at that method of preparation. For a cocktail made up of pure alcohol, like the Vesper, stirring is the preferred technique. “Shaking the spirits leads to bruising and diluting the solution,” says Russ Bergeron, beverage manager at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, who explains that shaking a cocktail often chips the ice cubes, and that those ice fragments will melt faster due to their small size. “That’s the main reason from a bartender’s standpoint—you don’t want to dilute your cocktail.” And let’s be frank, no one can picture James Bond drinking a weak, watered-down martini.
Ironically, Bond only orders this famous martini once (in Fleming’s novels, anyway). He later orders regular vodka or gin martinis, but never returns to his original preference. Some believe that Vesper Lynd’s death at the end of Casino Royale is what motivates Bond to move on from the cocktail. As for us, we’re certain that once you take a sip of the secret agent’s famous creation (made to the specifications that we’ve illuminated here), you’ll gladly order another.