Last week, while chatting about cocktails, a coworker reminded me of the classic Vesper. Loved by James Bond, enjoyed, but not truly loved, by me the last time I mixed it up and reintroduced to the world during Casino Royale this is a cocktail I should love. Strong measure of gin, some bitterness and a bit of vodka to round it all out.
- “A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
- “Oui, monsieur.”
- “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 pleased 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.”
- —Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, “Rouge et Noir’
Sounds about right, but the last time I had issues with the Lillet. The original recipe calls for a Kina Lillet, which is no longer made. Lillet Blanc, while very tasty, doesn’t have the quinine bitterness (the kina) found in Kina Lillet. Thankfully, Cocchi Americano has made its way into the American market. Cocchi (pronounced COKE-ey) Americano brings back the cinchona quinine bitterness and makes the Vesper awesome again.
Having so many great spirits options close by, I decided to co-opt the locavore trend and go with a local gin and vodka. The gin is one I’ve talked about here before, namely Roundhouse. And, the vodka I chose, Sno, comes from J&L distilling, the makers of my also deeply loved Fyr liqueur. Typically, I reach for a vodka that is completely pure and free of any flavor. That’s generally what it’s there for anyhow. In this version of the Vesper, I wanted something with a little more character. Sno fills that need perfectly. Distilled from sugarcane, Sno has a character similar to some white rums, but its mouth feel is where it really shines. Adding a silky quality both on it’s own and in the cocktails you mix it into, Sno definitely isn’t just a filler vodka. *
This time, the Vesper has really stepped up. As you’d expect, the gin is the star. But the vodka adds a wonderful fullness to the flavor and a velvety texture. It’s hard to put into words, but absolutely distinct. The Cocchi Americano adds exactly the bitterness that I looking for the last time. In fact, my added orange bitters weren’t needed here. This is one of those truly pure cocktails that have been moving more and more to the fore on my list. And, like any martini, the Vesper is highly configurable simply by swapping out the gin and vodka for your favorites. If you haven’t mixed up a Vesper, you need to. In advance, you’re welcome.
1 1/2 oz Roundhouse Gin
1/2 oz Sno Vodka
1/2 oz Cocchi Americano
Lemon Twist for Garnish
1) Combine gin, vodka and Cocchi in a mixing glass
2) Add ice and stir until well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
4) Garnish with a lemon twist
PS – I went back to stirring. When you gin and vodka taste so damn good, it’s better not to over-chill them.
* I may be partial to this particular bottle because I helped bottle it. But other bottles of Sno are equally great.