Mixing Elegance and Espionage: The Story Behind Bond's Vesper Martini
If there was one cocktail that had a fictional counterpart, it would be the Martini. James Bond’s drink of choice is an elegant, dry, and adaptable punch that comes in many variations. Since Ian Fleming’s 1953 spy novel, 007 has ordered his own take—the Vesper Martini—on-and-off-screen, with the prerequisite that it is ‘Shaken, not stirred.’ Although the cocktail’s origins are unclear, it may derive its name from the Martini brand of vermouth; but the Vesper’s roots are recorded in the pages of one of the greatest spy series ever created—and James Bond himself preferred Kina Lillet.
“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?”
‘Shaken, not stirred’ has since become a famous trope in the film series, starting with Dr No, where Bond’s waiter assures our spy that his Vodka Martini is, ‘not stirred.’ It was in Goldfinger when our agent finally utters the immortal line for the first time, before being knowingly lampooned in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, when Bond’s contact Dikko Henderson hands the unimpressed spy his Martini stirred, and ‘not shaken.’ Naturally, each reference is more tongue-in-cheek throughout the Roger Moore-era (particularly in one scene where his nemesis Jaws is crushed in The Spy Who Loved Me). But it has remained a series constant, and the cocktail’s association with 007 has grown famous over the years.
The origins of the Vesper Martini were not through the genius of a bartender, but Fleming himself, and 007’s punch of choice has since been added into the canon of respectable Martini recipes—even if certain ingredients, like the Kina Lillet, are now impossible to find. Any good bartender should be able to make one, and at some establishments, like the famous Duke’s Bar in London’s Mayfair, it has become a speciality. Fleming himself (no stranger to a stiff drink) was a regular, and it is believed that the Vesper Martini was first formulated by the author during one of his routine trips to Duke’s, only to be brought to life in Casino Royale.
The cocktail’s namesake is Bond’s love interest Vesper Lynd. The author had also used the name ‘Vesper’ when describing his own rum-based cocktails at his Goldeneye hideaway in Jamaica—a boozier, perhaps less sophisticated concoction than the Martini version. Although one has always been able to find a Vesper Martini at the most cosmopolitan addresses, it wasn’t until the 2006 film adaptation, Casino Royale, where the cocktail rose to its current fame. Daniel Craig’s agent smoothly explains his drink order across the poker table from steely-eyed villain Le Chiffre (played by Mads Mikkelsen)—and ever since, many thousands of revellers have asked their bartender to replicate that scene for them. This should come as little surprise. The Vesper Martini is another example of living out the fantasy of the James Bond series—wearing our elegant agent’s favourite watches, impeccable tailoring, and indulging in his choice of cocktail. But more than that, the drink has another thing going for it that Bond fans or otherwise have since come to appreciate: It’s a bloody good Martini.