The Vesper Martini Origin
Ian Fleming created the Vesper Martini in his 1953 book “Casino Royale” which was also the debut of James Bond. In Chapter 7 of the book, Bond thinks up the drink on the spot and requests the barman make it for him.
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’
‘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?’
‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.’
As Bond states, the original vesper is massive. It’s 4.5 oz (130 mLs) of solid booze before any water is even diluted into the drink. His recipe would require a 6 oz (180 mLs) glass minimum to hold the drink. That’s a bit unreasonable, so for the recipe listed here, I have cut it by half, but be aware that the original is double the size on this site. After his love interest in Casino Royale, Bond eventually calls his cocktail the Vesper. By the end of the book, Vesper Lynd has revealed herself to be a double agent working against Bond but overcome by her guilt and genuine feelings for him; she sacrifices herself to save him. Stricken by the sadness of Vesper Lynd’s death, Bond never orders another Vesper again.
Should The Vesper Be Shaken Or Stirred?
Bond requests the drink to be shaken and not stirred. I have a much more in-depth write-up on the origins of shaking drinks that were traditionally stirred in my dry martini article. Essentially during the 1920s – late 1930s, shaking became a way to soften the harsher gins of the time and add a bit of effervescence to the drink. You could be sure that a quick shake would rapidly dilute and cool the glass as much as possible for a bartender of any experience level. A colder, more diluted drink with tons of tiny bubbles would help soften and mask the poor quality of prohibition-era gins. To get similar results stirring a drink requires more patience and skill, which was lacking in prohibition-era America. In addition to poor quality alcohol, were poor quality bartenders. Young patrons found the best way to mitigate those issues was to ask for the drink shaken. Shaken martinis thus became associated with the way trendy young drinkers requested stiff drinks and evolved into more of an image. In the recipe for the dry martini, the author of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Cocktail book laments this trend and states how the old skilled bartenders of pre-prohibition times refused to make martinis this way.
Bond uses this association to establish himself to the reader as a young and hip assassin. Requesting his cocktails shaken is a kind of world-building that tells the audience that Bond is trendy and sophisticated, not old and stiff. I find it quite funny because, stay with me here, Casino Royale was published in 1953. This mainly was a trend of the 1920s – early 1940s. The only person in the 1950s who would think a shaken martini still was young and trendy would be an older man who started drinking in the 1920s or 30s. Ian Fleming was born in 1908, so he was a young and impressionable drinker during the 1930s when this was a more common request. These were books written for older men to remind them of when they were young—giving them a kind of fantasy alternate reality youth.
Should You Substitute Kina Lillet With Lillet Blanc Or Cocchi Americano?
Unfortunately, the original ingredient Kina Lillet was discontinued by the Lillet company in 1986. What replaced it is Lillet Blanc, but Lillet Blanc is a different wine from what Kina Lillet was. I will clearly say I have personally never tasted the now defunct Kina Lillet. But from other sources and individuals familiar with its taste, most say Cocchi Americano is closer to what Kina Lillet used to taste like than Lillet Blanc. So even though it shares the Lillet name, you may want to substitute Cocchi Americano for the Kina Lillet. For any pre-1980s cocktail that calls for Kina Lillet, use Cocchi Americano.