The Vesper Martini
Here’s a cocktail with more aliases than a spy with a franchise. The Vesper is apparently, depending on whom you believe, either the original James Bond martini or an original drink unrelated to the Bond martini that was created by Fleming’s friend Ivor Bryce, a Texas oil millionaire, with Fleming, or by Gilberto Preti, a London bartender, in honor of Fleming’s first Bond book, Casino Royale.
The cocktail appears in the book and is named for Vesper Lynd, the double agent who is Bond’s lady interest until her suicide over split allegiances to the free world and the evil empire of the Soviet Union. Bond dedicates the drink to the “violet hour”, a beautiful evocation of the ethos of the cocktail. Nice Sir James.
The Vesper itself is a double agent, and the Cold War in a glass– both gin and vodka, in deference to Britain and Russia, and Lillet with a twist of lemon. Every liaison requires lingerie and something tart, right? But the Lillet is what keeps the cocktail’s gin-to-vodka fusion in check, or it’s just another drink fatale. Bond was originally a gin drinker, appropriately for an English agent, and the Vesper was a gin drink. The now Bond martini, with its strict instruction to be shaken, not stirred, and its large vodka measure, is the love child of an early deal with Smirnoff vodka when the Bond movies became popular. ( Humphrey Bogart drinks Gordon’s gin in The African Queen, in 1951, one of the grandfather of endorsement deals.)
Despite Bond’s famed finickiness about what and how he drinks, he hasn’t been true to himself, at least in the movies. He drinks mint juleps in Goldfinger and rum Collins in Thunderball. And in spite of in Die Another Day, he seems to favor mojitos. Only Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who is Bond’s best friend in the series until he gets taken out of service by a shark in Live and let Die, remains faithful to drinking the Bond martini. But then, that’s what best friends are for–they, at lest, remember why everyone’s supposed to like you.
At Prava, a 281 Lafayette Street in New York, Jason Kosmas, the bar manager, makes his Vesper as if it were being served behind the Iron Curtain, with three parts vodka to one part gin, a reverse of vodka is what people want at the moment. The Vesper has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, but what wouldn’t with a short list of strong liquors in it? With its adroit international accent, it has, like an emblem of espionage itself, a way of making you talk. Engage but beware, and live to drink another day!
An interesting view of The Vesper by William L. Hamilton, a NY writer.
THE VESPER recipe.