The Vesper


James Bond: Cocktailian

OK, I am a giant sucker for James Bond. And I’ve found quite bit to like about nearly all the Bonds.

Nearly all?
In other words, George Lazenby need not apply?

Exactly. But that said, I’m really liking the new James Bond series reboot that they started with Casino Royale, and are continuing with Quantum of Solace. And as a cocktailian, I truly appreciate the screen Bond’s return to Gin in his drinks, and the Vesper cocktail in particular. I’m going to start with a short review of the latest film because, well, I can. I’ll try to avoid much in the way of spoilers, but you can scan down past the big picture below if you want to skip the review and get on with the drinky stuff.

Quantum is unique in the Bond oeuvre in that it is a direct sequel. The movie begins right after the end of Casino Royale, and I mean right after—as in probably less than an hour after. Much of the plot and character arc (yes, James Bond has character arcs these days) reference Casino Royale in detail, to the point that if you haven’t seen that film, I doubt this one will make a lot of sense.
The film revolves around Bond and MI-6’s discovery and investigation of Quantum, the shadowy organization of evil capitalist pigs who seem to be replacing SPECTRE in the Bond world. This is the group fronted by Mr. Whyte in Casino Royale, and centered on Mr. Greene in this one. Hmmm. There might be a theme developing here.
Mr. Greene is in many was an Al Gore figure: He is a celebrity world traveller who spends much of his time calling people’s attention to the disastrous effects of climate change on our planet, and being lionized for his efforts. He also makes vast amounts of money off of his activities. Finally, he is capable of oilily charming banter and acts of astounding evil (and acts of astoundingly oily evil). That last comparison is ridiculous of course. Al Gore is not remotely capable of charm.
Interestingly, the female lead, Olga Kurylenko, is not a love interest at all for Bond. She is instead a mirror in which he sees himself as the film develops. She is a protegé of sorts, and a weapon, for Bond. Don’t worry guys, she is also ridiculously hot. Some things, the Bond family does not screw with. Bond in fact beds only one woman in this film (I guess we all hit dry spells), but he does otherwise show the uncanny Bondian ability to get women to do anything for him with little more than a smile. This is more believable than usual with Daniel Craig, when you consider how definite yet reticent women are when discussing him in front of their husbands….
The gadgetry is low-key and largely believable. I can see MI-6 having computers like the ones in this movie. (Sorry David Caruso, but I do not believe the Miami-Dade Crime Lab having such computers) The car and boat chase scenes are fantastic, and all centered on Bond’s fantastic skill, luck and titanic titanium balls, rather than Q Division’s street-modding. The cinematography in the fight scenes gets a little chaotic, but the fights themselves are adrenalin drenched and fun. The climax has everything a Bond movie is supposed to have, including the question of why evil people persist in building isolated facilities designed to blow up so magnificently.
Go see the movie if you ever liked any Bond flick.

One of the most interesting parts of the reboot of the Bond series, starting with Casino, is what Bond drinks. Gone is the Vodka Martini please, shaken-not stirred. Lifting straight from the books, Bond invents his own cocktail while playing in the Casino Royale. He names it the Vesper, in honor of his lady love. Unlike the book Bond, who never drank one again after she dies, Craig continues, drinking six in one of the cooler cocktail venues you will likely never get to enjoy yourself.
The Vesper is a simple cocktail, but one most bars today will be unable to make.

THE VESPER

  • 3 parts Gin
  • 1 part Vodka
  • 1/2 part Lillet Blanc

Shake or stir thoroughly, according to your taste, and then display your (channel) knife skills by garnishing with the longest strip of lemon peel that you can produce. Serve in the most elegant cocktail glass in your inventory.

True to the books, Bond specifies Gordon’s for the Gin. I use Sapphire because a) I have lots of it in my inventory, and b) it is higher proof. James Bond hates low caliber ammunition, and Gordon’s is lower proof now than when Casino Royale the novel was written. I have tried Vespers with more esoteric Gins such as Whitley Neill and Hendricks. The Vesper is a case where these liquors are a bad idea. It is a remarkably balanced drink and flinging cucumbers, rose petals, or baobab into the mix just makes for chaos.
I use Sobieski for the Vodka, but I suppose a sturdy British Vodka like Tanqueray Sterling would fit the bill to a T. Just use a Vodka that you won’t notice. It is in the drink merely to dilute the botanicals in the Gin.
The Lillet Blanc is where you will lose most bartenders. The bartender in Quantum of Solace actually goes out of his way to define Lillet. A French aperitif that is not Vermouth, he says emphatically, collecting a handsome product placement fee for the producers of the film.
I started drinking these on a lark when Casino came out, but I find I really really like this cocktail. As I said, it is remarkably balanced. It also helps with my cocktailian self-respect, as I still cannot drink Gin Martinis. If you can’t either, try a Vesper or two instead. The Vodka reduces the impact of Juniper & Co. without diluting the alcohol, and the Lillet is a slightly different compliment to the party than Vermouth.
Plus, it allows you to be a Bond weenie, while sounding sophisticated. Any bartender who works somewhere that actually carries Lillet is going to cringe at anyone ordering a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred. Order a Vesper, and you’ll still be a fanboy, but one who knows his stuff.


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  1. Sonja

    20 November

    So funny to see this – we were drinking Vespers just last night and talking about going to see the movie! Glad to hear it’s worth watching. Perhaps I’ll have another Vesper before we go…

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. The long-neglected follow-up

    27 February

    The book (and first film, at least) specify Kina Lillet, not Lillet Blanc.

    Inconveniently, it’s no longer made, so I would recommend adding some quinine (where the in ‘Kina’ the name came from) to replace the bitter dimension missing from the reformulated Lillet Blanc. Wondrich recommends Angostura bitters in a pinch, and a pinch of quinine powder (usually cinchona bark).

    Using the live power made for a slightly muddy drink which became noticeably more bitter as I drank it, so I prefer a tincture of quinine, which is pretty easy to make:

    1 (fl) oz cinchona bark (can be bought online)
    4 oz Everclear or grain alcohol (vodka or water would work but quinine is more soluble in alcohol)

    Mix in a jar, shake or stir frequently, then pour through a paper coffee filter. One pass was sufficient to remove virtually all sediment, but a second couldn’t hurt.

    Strength of the tincture will vary, as will droppers, but I keep it in a dropper bottle, and four drops is enough to add some wonderful bitterness that really enlivens the drink.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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