Back in September I was lucky enough to be taken along to the Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style exhibition at the Barbican by my other half where I was served a Vesper. I planned to write a nice short blog post about this containing a picture of said drink and a little explanation. Well, that is exactly what has not happened. I had, as it turned out, opened an almighty can of worms that has seen this cocktail lead me on something of a grail hunt in the lead up to Skyfall’s release this week.
Let us start at the beginning. (Any post that contains that sentence is clearly far too long but stick with it and there’s a treat at the end I promise!) The 50 Years of Bond Style exhibition was great fun, containing a fascinating selection of props and costumes as well as some of the original storyboards and design drawings from the films. We saw Oddjob’s hat, Scaramanga’s golden gun, Jaws’ teeth and several well-known swimming costumes (more on those later)!
(A selection of further pictures can be found here.)
Whilst the exhibition was running the Barbican also featured a 007 Martini Bar where visitors made the most of their opportunity to be Bond for a little while before having to step back out onto Silk Street (and the real world).
This of course provided the unique opportunity to order a Vodka Martini “shaken, not stirred” without looking or sounding like a complete twonk. At the last second I came to my senses however and ordered another, far more interesting Bond classic: the Vesper.
“A dry martini… One. In a deep champagne goblet… 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?”
– James Bond (from Ian Flemming’s original 1953 novel Casino Royale)
Having thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition this was not a decision made lightly; Connery never drank a Vesper, Brosnan never drank a Vesper, Moore, Lazenby and Dalton never drank Vespers. Having only featured in one Ian Fleming novel (the one novel that Eon did not have the rights to until 1999) only Daniel Craig has ordered a Vesper on screen… and on balance I am not a huge fan of Daniel Craig as my favourite suave and sophisticated secret agent…
Here is my theory, based on the aforementioned swimming costumes. Connery and Brosnan (my favourite Bonds) watch their Bond girls, Ursella Andress and Halle Berry respectively, emerge from the sea in their swimming costumes. Of course they do, they’re Bond! Daniel Craig’s Bond girl meanwhile, Caterina Murino, is on the shore as Daniel Craig emerges from the sea in his nut-huggers as if he’s in a Davidoff Cool Water advert. This is a problem.
He still ends up sleeping with the girl of course, but Ian Fleming may have turned in his grave a little also. Just a thought… anyway back to the Vesper…
“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.”
– James Bond (1953)
Like Daniel Craig, the Vesper splits opinion somewhat with ‘Dr. Cocktail’ Ted Haigh describing it as “a work of genius” whilst David Wondrich cites it as proof that “from the admittedly narrow perspective of mixology, James Bond is an idiot”.
For a relatively simple cocktail there is a staggering amount of debate and many points of contention. The single greatest problem in mixing one up today is that one of the ingredients may no longer even exist but first let’s break it down as Bond himself does in order to take a closer look at some of the issues:
“large”: His “deep champagne goblet” was required because martini glasses were smaller in those days (say 3-4 ounces). Most martini glasses today are perfectly adequate for larger (than necessary) cocktails.
“very strong”: Great emphasis has been placed when discussing the Vesper on gin and vodka being stronger in the fifties but a few wires seem to have been crossed in places, which has muddied the waters a little.
- Gordon’s in the UK (in its square-faced, green bottle) was always 40% abv (well before the fifties) right up until the nineties when it was reduced to 37.5%. The export strength found in France, where Bond was served his Vesper, was 47.3% abv and it can still be found at this strength throughout continental Europe. (Tanqueray is more readily available at 47.3% in the UK as many others have observed.) In the US meanwhile, Gordon’s is still 40%.
- Although Bond was served his Vesper with potato vodka he suggests that “if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better”. By choice he drinks Russian and Polish vodkas including Stolichnaya. David Wondrich tells us (in reference to the Vesper) that Stoli was 50% abv in the fifties but as far as I can tell their flagship ‘red label’ has always been 40% (Russian vodkas were usually produced at a standard 40% dating right back to Mendeleev in 1894). Smirnoff in the US meanwhile was available at 40% and 50%, as indeed it still is (although their red label is now 37.5% in the UK).
“very cold and very well made”: Here, amongst other things, we face the shaken versus stirred debate. Bond is correct in thinking that a vodka cocktail (more on the gin in just a moment) is best as cold as possible and that this is best achieved by shaking. I refer you to the scientific findings of Dave Arnold from his work alongside Eben Klemm and others:
“Cocktail shaking is a violent activity. If you shake for around 12-15 seconds (though shaking longer won’t hurt), and if you aren’t too lethargic, neither the type of ice you use nor your shaking style will appreciably affect the temperature or dilution of your drink. Shaking completely chills, dilutes and aerates a drink in around 15 seconds, after which the drink stops changing radically and reaches relative equilibrium. Shaking is basically insensitive to bartender-induced variables.
Stirring is different. Think of stirring as inefficient shaking. It can take over 2 minutes of constant stirring to do what shaking can accomplish in 15 seconds. No one stirs a drink for 2 minutes, so the drink never reaches an equilibrium point. All the bartender-induced variables – size of ice, speed of stirring, duration of stirring, etc. — make a difference in stirred cocktails, so bartender skill is very important in a stirred cocktail.
Because stirring doesn’t reach equilibrium, stirred drinks are warmer and less diluted than shaken cocktails. Stirred drinks, unlike shaken ones, are not aerated. Stirring does not alter the texture of a drink –it merely chills and dilutes. A properly diluted cocktail stored at -5 degrees Celsius in a freezer is indistinguishable from a properly stirred one.”
– Dave Arnold (cookingissues.com)
…but what about cracked ice I hear you say?:
“The greater the surface area, the more water on the surface of the ice. So…. Shaking with small ice makes the drink watery right away… [Unless you can “shake or spin the extra water off your small ice before you make a drink”]… After the initial dilution, small ice and big ice will behave identically (with respect to dilution and temperature).”
– Dave Arnold
The problem most people highlight with shaking a Vesper is that it is actually mostly made up of gin rather than vodka and that shaking will ‘bruise’ the gin, which will have an adverse affect on the overall taste. This, in the words of Robert ‘Drink Boy’ Hess, is “Hogwash”. He indicates that the real reason that you would opt to stir is due to presentation. Cocktails made up of clear ingredients should be as clear as possible and a well-trained bartender should take the time to stir so as to avoid cloudiness caused by aeration.
Whilst perfectly valid this is primarily aimed at people who are prone to say “shaken, not stirred” after ordering almost any cocktail, especially a regular martini, simply because James Bond said it when he ordered something-or-other. This of course is not the logic of Bond himself. Earlier I mentioned that martini glasses in the 1950s were smaller (much smaller in some cases) than many found today, this is because a smaller cocktail retains its chill whilst you drink it. Bond would have been well aware of this despite ordering his large drink (in order to bend but not break his self-imposed pre-dinner etiquette) and it was therefore essential that it started off as cold as possible!
The result was a “pale golden drink, slightly aerated” but as cold as it could be (-7°C is about the best you can hope for).
Still with me? Well the single greatest problem is as follows: Kina Lillet may no longer exist. It is generally understood that in 1985/86 the product was reformulated, becoming less syrupy, less sweet and (perhaps most importantly) less bitter, giving birth to Lillet Blanc the product we find today.
Lillet is a quinquina, an aperitif containing quinine. It is this quinine, from cinchona bark, that was the source of the more prominent bitterness in the original formulation (hence the ‘Kina’ (quina) being dropped), as it is in tonic water.
Here then, are the suggested courses of action for replacing the Kina Lillet:
- Lillet Blanc – most people writing today are shooting in the dark with regards to how much really changed in the eighties, but those with longer memories, such as ‘Dr Cocktail’ Ted Haigh, recall the event with “utter chagrin”. Don’t believe those who say Lillet Blanc is the same as Kina Lillet – the question is whether there is a better alternative…
- Jean de Lillet Reserve (Blanc) – originally created alongside Lillet Blanc in the eighties and suggested to be closer to the original formula but still lacking in discernible bitterness according to Erik Ellestad of the Savoy Stomp (2004 vintage).
- Cocchi Americano – an Italian aperitif that has become the most popular ‘go to’ in place of Lillet Blanc in recipes calling for Kina Lillet, it is more bitter and also more spiced than Lillet Blanc.
- Kina L’Avion D’or – a new quinquina from Tempus Fugit Spirits (although supposedly based on a century-old Swiss recipe) that is looking to challenge Lillet and Cocchi Americano and is said to be richer than the latter with the requisite bitterness (sounds promising!).
- China Martini & Lillet Blanc mix – as suggested by David Smith, one half of Summer Fruit Cup, China (Kina/quina) Martini is “made by Martini Rossi (and) heavily flavoured with Cinchona Bark”. A 50-50 mix of this and Lillet Blanc imparts quinine bitterness with the added bonus of making the whole drink the desired pale gold colour, something not sufficiently achieved by any of the suggestions above.
- Cinchona bark – writing in 2006 and in lieu of greater availability of some options above, David Wondrich sourced some cinchona bark powder from a website selling sustainable rainforest products (raintreenutrition.com) and suggested that a small amount could be added directly into the drink alongside Lillet Blanc. Another option is to steep the bark in alcohol to create your own cinchona tincture/bitters that can then be added. Others, such as Reese Lloyd of Cocktail Hacker, have tried infusing their Lillet Blanc with cinchona with mixed results.
- Sugar syrup – in order to make up for the lost sweetness and balance any added bitterness (especially if going down the cinchona bark route).
- Regular Bitters – (if all else fails).
So what, if anything, have we actually settled here? Well, in terms of mixing a Vesper today there are still a few key questions:
Was the Vesper invented by Bond specifically during his time in Northern France, or earlier back in Britain, or elsewhere? Are we in fact trying to recreate the only Vesper Bond was ever served (even though Daniel Craig got around to ordering six more in Quantum of Solace) or one that he has designed in his head?
The first of those questions probably cannot be answered by anyone living today and as we are dealing with fiction perhaps Fleming himself did not even know!
All things considered, I propose two recipes:
The Vesper #1 (The Royale-Les-Eaux)
3 ounces (not parts) (9cl) Gordon’s export (europe) (47.3%) – or Tanqeray Export Strength (47.3%)
1 ounce (3cl) potato vodka – for example Luksusowa or Chopin although Chase make an English one too (alternatively, try and make your own!)
1/2 ounce (1.5cl) of Lillet Blanc/China Martini mix – or Lillet Blanc & chincona tincture/bitters with a dash of sugar syrup if necessary
Shake with ice for 15 seconds (or about 20 shakes) and strain the pale golden drink into a champagne goblet. Add a large thin slice of lemon peel.
The Vesper #2 (The SW3)
3 ounces (not parts) (9cl) Gordon’s export (US) (40%) – or another London dry gin of a similar but not lower abv, for example Brokers, SW4 (if you like a bit of word play) or even Boodles (as it is named after the gentleman’s club Ian Fleming was a member of)
1 ounce (3cl) Stolichnaya (40%) – or other Russian or Polish vodka (40-50%)
1/2 ounce (1.5 cl) Kina L’Avion D’or – or Cocchi Americano, or indeed any Kina Lillet substitute of your choice
Shake with ice for 15 seconds (or about 20 shakes) and strain the colourless (or slightly golden) drink into a large martini glass. Add a large thin slice of lemon peel.
The Vesper must be the cocktail with the greatest number of factors for debate and thanks to the enduring popularity of Bond through 50 years of movies plenty of people willing to debate them! It may surprise some to learn then that Fleming, inventor of the Vesper, did not actually sample his creation until several months after – only to discover that it was “unpalatable”.
Luckily, these things are subjective and whilst the Vesper will have its detractors it will also continue to win new fans just as I honestly hope Daniel Craig can win me over as Bond in Skyfall this week (although he unfortunately won’t be doing it with his new drink of choice!).
and finally, as promised, a treat…
A.Skillz & Kraft Kuts – 50 years of Bond Minimix:
(If for some reason it is not working, you can also find it here)
As the rain falls this Sunday afternoon it seems an apt time to finish this post about a day when it really came down…
April to August 2012 was the third wettest on record in the South East with the largest daily rainfall hitting us on Saturday 25th August. Bank holiday weekend. Oblivious of the impending aqueous onslaught, three intrepid explorers set off for a day out and about.
It started innocuously enough with a rain-free trip over to Lower Marsh. Here we popped into the Scooter Caffè, a place adorned with all manner of different items and decorations not least a wall covered in old Decca Records posters for releases and concerts dating back to the 1920s as well as the vintage scooters and associated memorabilia that lend the place its name. Despite a decent selection of spirits and liqueurs I resisted the temptation for an early sharpener and settled for an espresso as we planned our day.
It was at this point that the heavens opened for the first time. We were sat a few feet inside the door of the cafe, which also has a canopy outside and were still starting to get soaked by rain deflecting up off of the road! After shutting the door we ordered more drinks. We were there for the long haul it seemed.
As our second drinks disappeared however, so did the rain. Onwards and upwards! By the time we got to Soho it would nearly be lunchtime!
Graphic Bar would be our lunchtime destination. Cool, clean and modern with street artist Ben Eine’s signature lettering adorning the many shutters along one side, Graphic also has regular installations from guest artists. Incredibly, almost as we crossed the threshold the rain returned. Torrential, unrelenting rain…
The timing was ridiculous (the next few people through the door were not quite as lucky as us!), we were in the favour of the rain gods it seemed!
Since our visit a new installation of 3D art by Jim Sharp has come to Graphic along with a new drinks menu which can be viewed here, whilst you can read more about the new 4D build-your-own Punch here. The trademark Paint Tin Punches are still available of course with the Gold one still being accompanied by the corresponding Spandau Ballet hit on the ghetto blaster (or performed by Tony Hadley himself for the princely sum of £15k!).
The drinks menu we met that day however can be found below – it should of course be mentioned that Graphic is also one of the premier spots for gin with over 130 different brands available (and counting).
To accompany my slider I chose a Mitch-ell Martini, a play on Giovanni Burdi’s Mitch Martini from the Match Bar that replaces the Żubrówka with Woodford Reserve, the peach liqueur with lemon juice, and adds a fresh mint garnish (originally lemon). Presumably this was a creation of, or at least named after, former bar manager Sarah Mitchell (now with The London Cocktail Club).
Woodford Reserve bourbon, fresh mint, fresh lemon juice, pressed apple juice & passion fruit syrup.
Needless to say, it works wonderfully with the bourbon more than happy to play well with apple juice just as Żubrówka does.
By this point we must have expected the rain to stop just as we wanted to leave, and it dutifully did leaving us to jump over the puddles and standing water as we continued, still dry, about our business. So successfully had we avoided the rain, as well as any tube stations forced to close due to flooding, that I later chose this day of all days to buy a pair of decidedly un-rainproof suede shoes! Blue suede shoes at that, just don’t step on them yeah?
So a day that begun admiring old Decca Records posters ended with some rock and roll footwear. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – I definitely didn’t accidentally buy the same shoes Prince Harry had made infamous in Jamaica. Nope, not me!
Ah well, if your going to accidentally buy the same piece of clothing as a royal (not something I would usually go out of my way to do) then doing it the same week that they were in the news for “a naked romp with several beauties” in Las Vegas is probably the very best time to do it!
A few weeks back I made the trip up to Durham, my old university town (although technically it’s a city), to visit one of my old partners in crime – a fellow Keeper of the Cane no less – who is now working for the uni.
Inevitably a number a drinking holes were frequented on this trip down memory lane, not least a Samuel Smith’s pub called The Swan & Three Cygnets – once home to £1.45 ales thus undercutting the student union and all sixteen college bars as there were then (Cuths has two whilst the Stockton colleges used to share just one!) by a whole five pence to offer the cheapest pint in Durham…
I still makes me laugh whenever I come across one of the many Samuel Smith’s pubs in London – they’re a real guilty pleasure of mine as its just like stepping back into The Swan or indeed The Colpitts (another Samuel Smith’s pub in Durham tucked away by the viaduct, a popular area for those living out of college).
Having not seen my friend for the best part of the year though I wasn’t content to simply quaff endless beers (how times have changed!) or even White Russians (sadly abandoned in Fabios!), I also wished to pass on something of my enthusiasm for whisky.
This was done initially with a bottle of Nikka Whisky From the Barrel, which amusingly also went down very well with his Scottish house mate despite the initial protests! (“Japanese whisky??? Don’t come anywhere near me with that muck… Oh, alright, I better try some…”)
As the weekend drew to a close we were heading over to meet a bunch of chaps I didn’t know and I found myself in the supermarket, en route, picking up some last minute supplies. As well as the mandatory lagers I hoped to pick up a little something from Islay or something with a nice coastal character that could be shared with friends new and old whilst also not scaring off any ‘non-whisky drinkers’! Despite the extremely limited selection I was rather pleased to pick up an entry level Bowmore with a name that promised much…
Nose: Sea breeze nearly hides a little honey and a faint wisp of smoke.
Palate: Salty with a brown sugar cube and barley sweetness that becomes more apparent the more you drink. It is far from complex however.
Finish: Sweet and salty with a little peat smoke briefly taking hold before slightly abruptly disappearing again.
Overall: Perfectly agreeable young, sweet, maritime dram.
It was an ideal choice if a little sweeter than expected and whilst it didn’t knock anybody’s socks off it was enjoyed by all who tried it. That said, it doesn’t exactly live up to such a grand name! On this occasion the legend was amongst the company instead of in the glass.
Rik Coldwell, you Sir are in fact a legend.
The BFI Southbank has been something of a revelation for me recently. Here you can enjoy films from yesteryears that you never imagined you would be able to see on the big screen all in a civilised, comfortable and popcorn-free environment. You can even bring a drink in from the bar! (Although squidgy cups are involved… may have to smuggle a Glencairn glass in next time…)
It is currently The Genius of Hitchcock season and I simply could not turn down the opportunity to go and see one of my all-time favourite films: North by Northwest.
“I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders depended [sic] upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”
– Roger ‘O’ Thornhill (Cary Grant)
This film is simply brilliant. A gripping espionage thriller with terrific dialogue, humour and even some sauciness that undoubtedly influenced the Bond movies (Hitchcock was even asked to direct an original version of Thunderball shortly after North by Northwest was released in 1959) revolving around the ultimate case of mistaken identity.
It is, amongst other things, also a film about booze. Thornhill’s fondness for a drink or two (like his attitude towards the truth, being an advertising man) is spectacularly turned against him within the first quarter of an hour of the film but at the start we find him on his way to have a few Martinis in the Oak Bar at the Plaza, New York.
What follows must be the most anybody has been forced to drink in a film ever (let alone one that was made in the 1950s and is rated ‘PG’) made all the more serious by the fact that it is intended to set poor old Thornhill up for an overly elaborate (although escapable) death. (Wow, this film really did influence Bond!)
“Assault with a gun and a bourbon and a sports car!”
– Roger Thornhill (or is that George Kaplan?)
Following another overly elaborate attempt on Thornhill’s life later in the film it is not immediately apparent which scotch Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) pours for them – possibly Haig Gold Label with the old diamond-shaped back label? Product placement, refreshingly, was not such a major consideration in the 1950s!
The best thing about these dramatic attempts to kill him, which is made more difficult to appreciate having grown up with twenty odd Bond films and countless other more recent movies, is that they were far from clichéd when North by Northwest was being made. This, along with Thornhill’s status as a regular guy (albeit a well-tailored one) who has been thrown into this extraordinary situation, make lines like “I could use a drink” all the more believable.
Cary Grant’s (or is that Archibald Leach’s?) greatest drinking moment in North by Northwest however, comes when he manages to order a pre-dinner Gibson in the dining carriage of a train with few places to hide despite the fact that he has been identified in every newspaper as a murderous fugitive whilst simultaneously breaking the ice with his new and rather attractive female acquaintance.
Similar to a Martini but garnished with an onion as opposed to an olive, the Gibson is an underrated variation that has been somewhat eclipsed by “the meteoric rise in classic Martini’s” and “the trends for olives and lemon zests” (69 Colebrooke Row blog).
More recently the Gibson has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been seen in Mad Men – after all, Roger O. Thornhill is the original Don Draper. Other nods to North by Northwest in the series include the stylised skyscraper opening (along with it’s Vertigo-style Hitchcockian falling man), Don Draper’s use of an alias and the fact that his father’s name is Archibald (Cary Grant’s real name). In Mad Men it is Roger Sterling who is the Gibson drinker however.
As the credits roll in a cinema where you could hear a pin drop during the more tense moments of the film and where everybody laughed together during the many humorous and witty moments, applause spontaneously broke out for a thoroughly appreciated motion picture.
If however we had all raised a glass instead then that would have surely been equally if not more appropriate.
After ‘A’ for Arran comes ‘B’ for BenRiach…
This is the second release in the Caskstrength.net boys’ potentially epic A-Z series of bottlings.
“Cask 5614 was distilled in 1996 and initially filled into a bourbon hogshead. However in 2008, the decision was made to re-rack the whisky into a rather succulent, spicy Pedro Ximinez sherry cask for the four remaining years of its maturation.”
– Neil & Joel
Released in conjuction with BenRiach and available to buy since midnight last night exclusively through Master of Malt, expect this highly collectable offering to sell out very quickly… (If you had your eye on one of the cotton tope bags available with the first 50 sold, they are looong gone already!)
Nose: Werther’s Originals give way to some muscovado, cinnamon and salted caramel.
Palate: Spicy and rich. Clearly cask strength without being too harsh and without detracting from deep caramel and dark chocolate as well as white pepper heat.
Finish: Warm, drying and satisfying. More salted caramel and spice.
Overall: Big, bold and spicy – does what it says on the tin, delicious.
After ‘B’ for BenRiach comes ‘C’ for…