Of all the drink orders in the world, probably the most famous is James Bond’s “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.” In the public’s memory, this one cocktail has eclipsed all the master spy’s other drinking. But, through books and films, Stingers, Old-Fashioneds, Americanos, Black Velvets, Scotches with soda and even a Negroni (consumed once in the short story, Risico) have fortified Bond for the kill. In his first adventure, Casino Royale, he reveals that he has even invented his own cocktail….
Bond insisted on ordering Leiter’s Haig-and-Haig “on the rocks” and then he looked carefully at the barman.
“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 pleasant 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.”
He watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker. He reached for it and took a long sip.
“Excellent,” he said to the barman, “but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.”
By the midpoint of the novel, he has dubbed this the Vesper after fellow secret agent Vesper Lynd. By the end, she has committed suicide and he never touches this cocktail again.
The Kina Lillet in the recipe is the Lillet Blanc which was discussed in last week’s column — sort of. I didn’t get into it then, but Kina Lillet was renamed Lillet Blanc in the 60s and then in 1987 it was reformulated — I assume to bring it in line with a common palate deadened by relentless exposure to soft drinks. This new Lillet was fruitier and considerably less sharp, its revamped taste achieved by dropping the amount of quinine in the mix. (I’ve read some accounts claiming the quinine was removed entirely.)
End result: a Lillet with much of it’s bitterness removed.
Coincidentally, through the 70s and 80s, James Bond was similarly pacified. The suave, determined killer of the novels became — his tongue planted in Roger Moore’s sagging cheek — an indestructible wag. A lampoon spy capering through a fantasy version of geopolitics. Charming enough to bring home to mother, this Bond. So palatable.
You’re watching the Cold War decay in Moonraker and Octopussy.
If you grew up on Moore’s Bond, on Our Man Flint and reruns of Get Smart, you might be lulled into thinking espionage was only ever a lark. All gunplay and judo chops. But stylish and carefree though those days may appear to hindsight, that post-war period was a more savage and paranoid time.
A perfect fit for spy novels and uncompromising liquors.
And, without a doubt, the booze was stronger in John Le Carré‘s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; in Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana and The Human Factor.
And in Fleming’s various literary outings with Bond.
Incidentally, Dr No, Fleming’s sixth and the only Bond novel I’ve ever read, ends with the titular villain buried alive under a tonne of gull guano. That, you may recall, did not make it into the film and I’m not entirely sure what that says about my central thesis (if central thesis I have).
Anyway, accepting that nowadays the booze is weaker and the Lillet fruitier, if you are interested in tasting a Vesper similar to the one Fleming would have known, Esquire Magazine offers this solution….
Shake (if you must) with plenty of cracked ice:
3 oz Tanqueray gin
1 oz 100-proof Stolichnaya vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
1/8 teaspoon (or less) quinine powder or, in desperation, 2 dashes of bitters
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist a large swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top. Shoot somebody evil.
Presumably, this quinine powder trick will work in any cocktail calling for Lillet. Now, if only I knew where one could buy the stuff.