DOTW: The Vesper

Posted by Cameron on 11.30.06 11:56 PM


“When I’m–er–concentrating, 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.”
–James Bond, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Was ever a character from popular literature more poorly served by Hollywood than James Bond? We all know the silver screen buffoonery: arch, cartoonish cardboard cutouts with sapphire blue eyes. Hit the tape marks and luxuriate in the JiggleVision. Dress like a peacock, shake the gadgets. Secret agent? Bah. This is a man so monomaniacal in his habits that even his enemies know his drink preference.

But on the page, Ian Fleming’s international spy is a different man. He prefers a low profile. He is thoughtful and specific, driven by both personal inclination and professional urgency. He is a hopeless romantic and desperately human. Over the course of the original thirteen novels and a few short stories, Bond falls deeply in love, again and again, in the face of brutal heartbreak. He takes great pains to remain anonymous and alive in a dangerous trade, and he is intimately, passionately connected with the day-to-day business of living.

“You must forgive me,” he said. “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It’s very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”

“Shaken, not stirred,” marketing-friendly bull***t be damned. Bond drinks whatever is appropriate, local, and good. In Turkey, it’s Kavaklidere, “a rich coarse burgundy like any other Balkan wine”. In the Caribbean: gin, tonic and lime (you can take the Boy out of the Empire…). Champagne? Just watch the man go. And when the vodka comes out, our man James drops pepper on top, for practical and aesthetic reasons:

‘It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,’ apologized Bond. ‘There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff –at least there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bath-tub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit. But I shouldn’t have insulted the club Wolfschmidt,’ he added with a grin.

But there’s only one drink that Bond invented, and it’s not the one you might think. The medium-dry vodka martini may have launched a thousand ships, but the Vesper, introduced in Casino Royale, is the original–really, the only–Bond drink. Not surprisingly, it’s a much more interesting cocktail:

“A dry Martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, Monseiur.”

“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?”

In The Book of Bond, Kingsley Amis argues that the mixture is a mistake, as that quantity of Kina Lillet would have made the cocktail undrinkably bitter. We will never know for sure, as the formula of Lillet was changed in 1986. Happily, the new Lillet works like a charm.

Made with one “measure” equaling one ounce, the Vesper is indeed a large, strong, cold cocktail. The vodka takes the edge off the gin and contributes a bit of sweetness which is reinforced by the Lillet and the lemon.

“This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

As might be expected, James can only find a bad one. This drink’s name comes from Vesper Lynd, a female spy who Bond initially ignores but then falls in love with. Vesper turns out to be a double-agent working for both the Russians and the British while in France. It’s a combination that echoes the ingredients of the cocktail that eventually bears her name: vodka, gin, and vermouth.

The Vesper
3 ounces gin
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Lillet

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass (or champagne coupe, if you have one). Garnish with a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Bet large. Tip the chef de partie. Flirt with Moneypenny. Get out before they use the laser.

Drink of the Week, drinks, literary, recipes



Comment by erin

Fab, fab post. My husband will love it. We’re going to see the movie this weekend (though I know you prefer the book)–we’ll drink a couple beforehand.

Posted on 12.01.06 at 9:56AM

Comment by erik_flannestad


As someone who spent formative years poring over Bond books, I have to say, yours is one of the best writeups of the Vesper and Bond that I’ve read. Love the stack of pulp in the pic.

Cheers, man!

Posted on 12.01.06 at 9:21PM

Comment by Cameron

Thanks, Erin and Erik.

Erik: Sometime in my early teens, I found a cache of maybe four or six of those Signet paperback editions at either a used bookstore or a yard sale — I forget which. I spent the next several years trolling more used bookstores for the rest of the set, all from the start of the Bond craze in the early 1960s. I’ve hauled around that stack of pulp ever since.

Posted on 12.02.06 at 8:56AM

Comment by Nelson

Excellent post! I’ve known you almost as long as anyone in the Bay Area has, and I had no idea that you were a reader of Ian Fleming’s novels!
The Vesper sounds like yet another winner from the bar of Cam.


Posted on 12.03.06 at 3:49PM

Comment by Anita

Gosh, it’s such a lovely idea for a story that Bon Appetit picked it up on their blog.

Posted on 12.05.06 at 9:41AM

Comment by Bob Sutton

I really love the idea that Fleming gave us Bond’s drink as a metaphor for the double agent, Vesper Lynd: she’s initially ice-cold, and she comingles Russian, British, and French loyalties.

But her given name is, itself, another classic Fleming double entendre: vespers are the traditional evening prayers said ‘in that violet hour’ by Church of England faithful. Thus, he gives Bond a girl so beautiful that she is an answer to his evening prayers?

If you’ve tasted one, the drink may be a capable substitute.

Posted on 01.11.07 at 6:39PM

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Cottoning to Gin…

Maybe it’s a little strange that the lead story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine section this week was on gin, but I don’t mind. I’m open minded that way. Truth is, I never much liked gin. My first exposure to it, in my uns…

Posted on 01.18.07 at 7:33PM

Comment by Chris P.

I bought a bottle of Lillet the week I bought Casino Royale. and I love it, but I shake the hell out of mine (lemon-zest in the shaker with ice to start to flavor the ice).

Posted on 06.13.07 at 9:48AM

Comment by P. Squiddy

Ah, Bob Sutton’s comment sheds a lot of light on the subject. It doesn’t make as much sense when Lynd is working with the terrorist bankers…

Posted on 08.02.07 at 8:03PM

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