How to Break James Bond’s Heart with a Drink


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Vesper

3 oz Gordon’s gin

1 oz vodka (grain preferred over potatoes)

1/2 oz Kina Lillet

Shake until very cold, strain into a chilled champagne coupe, and garnish with a long, thin twist of lemon peel.

007’s drink of choice has long been a “vodka martini– shaken, not stirred,” which of course is the source of this site’s title. It was so well-known that it literally changed the cocktail landscape. Martinis today are more often made with vodka than gin, and they’re more often shaken than stirred. I’ll go into the shaken/stirred issue some other time, but suffice it to say, there’s a reason Bond had to specifically ask for a shaken one, instead of expecting the barkeep to do it that way automatically. Bond’s drink choice was so influential that vodka eventually replaced gin as the most-sold liquor in America.

Vodka, a touch of vermouth, and an olive, shaken. He didn’t always prefer such a simple drink.

In Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first 007 book, Bond orders a drink of his own invention.

“A dry martini,” he 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.
“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 can think of a good name.”

  — Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming, Chapter 7

Felix Leiter was remarking about how much liquor Bond was ordering all in one drink. A serving of hard spirits is 1.5 oz, so this single martini is three drinks! What’s more, Gordon’s was 94 proof, and most vodka was bottled at around 100 proof! Definitely don’t treat this drink the way James Bond does (only one drink before dinner, so I can concentrate), and I recommend serving it savored carefully, not slurped.

The recipe cannot be made today as it was in Fleming’s time. Gordon’s is now 80 proof, and even worse, Kina Lillet (KEEN-uh lee-LAY) no longer exists at all! Today, the closest thing to Gordon’s in 1953 is Tanqueray’s london dry gin.

When Kina Lillet went off the market, it was relaunched as Lillet. The “Kina” came from the word “quinine” which most people know today as the taste of tonic water. Lillet (white, not red) is a sweet, riesling-like fortified wine, and the bitter quinine in the old “Kina” formula balanced the sweetness to better compliment the juniper in the Gordon’s. Today’s Lillet blanc is missing the quinine, which changes the flavor of the drink.

The best modern replacement for Kina Lillet is Cocchi Americano (COKE-ee), which can be a little harder to find than Lillet. If you’re stuck with Lillet, there are a few options:

  1. Ignore the difference. This vesper is a little sweeter, but it’s still delicious.
  2. Add a couple of dashes of bitters. I don’t like this option, because it assumes “bitters” must be bitter, when the primary flavors they impart are more like seasoning. Angostura bitters have a sweet cinnamon profile (though the finish is very bitter if tasted neat).
  3. Add a dash or two of tonic syrup, which is high in quinine, or some flat tonic water. This might be worth experimenting with.
  4. As Esquire Magazine suggested, add a small sprinkling of quinine powder. I figure if you can find quinine powder, you can probably find Cocchi Americano.

So we’re left with this as the modern recipe:

Vesper

3 oz Tanqueray london dry gin

1 oz 100 proof grain vodka

1/2 oz Cocchi Americano

Shake until very cold, strain into a chilled champagne coupe, and garnish with a long, thin twist of lemon peel.

Bond named the drink later in the book after his love interest, Vesper Lynd, because “once you have tasted it, you won’t drink anything else.”

That is, until she turns out to be a double agent and dies, and the books never again mention the drink Bond is too heartbroken to order. That’s why, from then on, his drink is the vodka martini. I suspect he chooses vodka in place of gin because the flavor has gone out of his life, and asks for it shaken because then it will be bruised, like his heart.

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