Cocktails have long been a popular drink around the world, but their popularity – that of martinis in particular – has no doubt been helped by the famous phrase “shaken, not stirred”. Spoken by none other than everyone’s favourite British secret agent James Bond, the term is best associated with the vodka martini.
The phrase first appeared in the 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever, but the MI6 agent didn’t say it himself until the sixth book Dr No. In film, Sean Connery’s Bond first uttered the words in Goldfinger. Since then, James Bond has become the guy all guys dream to be, aspiring to his life of tuxedos, cars, gadgets and women.
The pairing of James Bond and cocktails became more solid following the 2006 movie Casino Royale (although lovers of the books already understood the close bond, since the novel of the same name was released in 1953). In Casino Royale, James orders a Vesper martini, a drink much more specific than the vodka martini everyone knows him to be a fan of. But just because it’s so precise, doesn’t mean you can’t make your own and be like Bond.
Origin of the Vesper Martini
As we mentioned, the Vesper martini first came to prominence in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, although it likely would have gained more notoriety following the release of the film, the first to star blond Bond Daniel Craig. It’s named after his love interest, Vesper Lynd, portrayed by Eva Green in the 2006 movie.
The drink mentioned in the book was invented by Ivar Bryce, a friend of author Ian Fleming. Fleming is said to have written “For Ivar, who mixed the first Vesper and said the good word”, in the copy of the book given to Bryce.
If you want to be really technical, the Vesper martini is actually the first drink that Bond orders shaken not a vodka martini. However, the actual phrase used in the 1953 novel is “Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold…” The famous motif that gets said by every bar-going wanker today, didn’t appear, as we’ve mentioned, until 1956 and the Diamonds Are Forever novel.
When James first orders the cocktail, he didn’t actually have a name for it. When he is first introduced to her, he says: “I can’t drink the health of your new frock without knowing your Christian name.” A clever tactic employed by the secret agent to learn her name.
After telling him her name, Bond enquires about its origin, to which she replies, “I was born in the evening, on a very stormy evening…”
Deciding it to be the perfect name for his cocktail, he asks Vesper if he can use it, to which she agrees.
This differs from the movie version. James already has the name decided for his unique cocktail, to which she asks if it is named as such “because of the bitter aftertaste”. He replies he named it for her because, “once you have tasted it, you won’t drink anything else.”
Vesper Martini Ingredients
What makes the Vesper martini so unique is the precise measurements of spirits to go into it. It differs from a regular martini in that it comprises both gin and vodka, with Kina Lillet (a liqueur made from white wine and fruit liqueurs) instead of a more conventional dry vermouth and a lemon peel.
Kina Lillet was discontinued in 1986, so you’re not actually able to make the exact same drink James would have had in the fictional novel. The proof of Gordon’s gin has been lowered too (James ordered the drink with 94 proof gin, Gordon’s is now 75).
Another specific factor in the makeup of the drink was revealed in the novel, with Bond telling his bartender, “if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.”
We’ll get onto how you can best recreate the Vesper at home in a bit, for now, you’ll need the following ingredients.
- Gordon’s gin
- Vodka (Ideally you want 50%/100-proof, but this hard to come by. The next best is 40%/80-proof, such as Absolut, Grey Goose or 42 Below.)
- Lillet Blanc (or dry vermouth)
- Lemon peel
- Cocktail shaker
- Cocktail glass (For greater authenticity, use a champagne goblet)
Again, for authenticity, you’ll want to look out for vodka with 50% ABV (100-proof) and ideally, a grain vodka.
Lillet Blanc is a good substitute for Kina Lillet, although the latter included quinine, which the former doesn’t have. Many enthusiasts recommend using Cocchi Americano for a more bitter taste.
Classic Vesper Martini Cocktail Measurements
Despite the Vesper martini comprising both gin and vodka, the measurements differ. The following is how James Bond ordered it in the original novel.
- Three measures of Gin – 90ml/3oz
- One measure of Vodka – 30ml/1oz
- Half a measure of Kina Lillet (Lillet Blanc) – 15ml/0.5oz
Of course, these measures may be too boozy for some, so the modern-day ‘official’ recipe is as follows:
- 45ml/1.5oz Gin
- 15ml/0.5oz Vodka
- 7.5ml/0.25oz Lillet Blanc
How To Make The Vesper Martini
As with James’ vodka martinis, purists get sent into meltdown with his insistence on them being shaken and not stirred. Traditionally, spirit-only drinks should be stirred so as not to dilute them too far and to maintain their texture and a clear appearance – shaking a drink can inhibit a cloudy appearance.
At one point in the movie Casino Royale, James is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, but considering he had just lost millions of dollars in a poker game, he replies “Do I look like I give a damn?!”.
Studies have shown that shaken martinis can contain more antioxidants than a stirred one. Besides, who would argue with the world’s greatest secret agent with a license to kill?
- Pour ice into a cocktail glass to chill
- Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker and add ice
- Shake well until cold
- Strain into the chilled cocktail glass
- Add a large twist of lemon peel (with as little white pith as possible)
Expert Twist On The Vesper Martini
The spirit-only nature of the Vesper will unsurprisingly not be to everyone’s tastes, so we called upon Proximo spirit specialist Hayley Dixon to provide a twist on the classic cocktail that will sing out to more tastebuds.
Hayley tells us, “The one thing that will always be debated by bartenders about a Vesper Martini is the shake Vs stir. In the book and film the cocktail is shaken but as a bartender, the concept of shaking a spirit-only cocktail seems a little wrong. You can’t control your temperature and dilution as well, and without citrus, you really don’t need to shake it. So for our twist, we will be stirring it down but keeping the flavours bright and floral.”
- 30ml Boodles London Dry Gin
- 30ml Vodka
- 15ml Lillet Blanc
- 15ml Peach Liqueur
- Dash Absinthe
- Garnish Lemon Twist
- If you have some large ice cube moulds make sure you get them in the freezer in advance, large ice is best for this one
- Get your Coupe Glass or Nick & Nora Glass and put it in the freezer. This cocktail will be served up with no ice so it is best to have your glassware as cold as possible
- Grab your Mixing Glass, Barspoon, Strainer and Jigger or other measuring device
- Measure all your ingredients in to a Mixing Glass, a large glass or into one half of a Cocktail Tin
- Cut your lemon twist, ensuring you remove as much pith as possible from the zest
- Add ice to your mixing glass and stir your cocktail down for approximately 45 seconds. Keep tasting as you go. The idea is to get your drink as cold as possible and to start introducing dilution. If you feel the cocktail still tastes a little ‘boozy’ keep on stirring
- Once your cocktail is nice and cold, get your glass out of the freezer and strain your cocktail into the glass straight away
- Garnish with your lemon twist by expressing the lemon oil from the peel over the top of the drink and then dropping the twist in
How To Drink A Vesper Martini Cocktail
Naturally, the only way to drink a Vesper martini is when you’re taking a break from killing henchman and over-entitled crime lords. It’s a drink for when you want to seduce a woman, hell, even name it after her if it will earn you brownie points. A tuxedo is obviously required, anything else and you won’t get the same taste.
Simply approach a classy cocktail bar, lean on it with one arm as you assess the room and let everyone know you’ve arrived. Speak your order to the bartender while you continue to avert your gaze to the crowd and in your most confident tone, turn to them and say “shaken, not stirred”. Cue smug smile.