The Vesper Martini

19 September 2018

James Bond… debonair, daring and with a penchant for “A Martini. Shaken, not stirred.

Despite uttering these immortal lines 007’s most famous drink is not a gin or vodka martini but a somewhat lesser know cocktail… The Vesper, invented by Ian Fleming himself.

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“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.

The drink arrives in the first Bond novel Casino Royale, and only on film in the 2006 adaptation, in which he consumes seven… one of which is poisoned.

It’s remarkable that this drink has become so famous when you consider that for more than half of its lifetime it has been impossible to make it properly. The enigmatic ingredient that Bond calls for, Kina Lillet, is notoriously hard to get hold of.

A French wine-based aperitif that first appeared in 1887, Kina Lillet became immensely popular, particularly in America. Technically categorised as an aromatised wine, it’s made by fortifying a Bordeaux wine, Semillon, with liqueurs, then barrel-aged. The number and flavour of the liqueurs is a closely guarded secret, the company only conceding that they use sweet and bitter oranges and lemon.

It can be argued that a Vesper isn’t a martini at all, because a martini must be made with vermouth. Whilst aromatised wines and vermouth have much in common they are distinctly not the same. Furthermore, experts will argue that the martini should only be stirred… sorry, Bond.

Incredibly, Fleming also admitted in a letter the editor of The Manchester Guardian, published in 1958, that he “proceeded to invent a cocktail for Bond (which I sampled several months later and found unpalatable)… The gimmickry grew like bindweed and now, while it still amuses me, has become an unfortunate trademark. I myself abhor wine and foodmanship.”

Created by an author, not a bartender, prepared in the wrong manner using an ingredient which has not been available for thirty-plus years, and described by its own creator as unpalatable… Yet the Vesper Martini is indelibly linked to everyone’s favourite spy, Mr James Bond.