The Vesper is a martini riff made with gin, vodka, and an aromatized wine. This now-classic cocktail is unique because it was invented not by a bartender, but by author Ian Fleming in his James Bond novel Casino Royale.
The Vesper is not for the faint of heart, containing a whopping 4 ounces of liquor, plus a splash of Lillet Blanc (or Cocchi Americano, if you prefer).
It’s safe to say that the level of alcohol in this martini is equivalent to a double of just about any other cocktail, so please keep that in mind when imbibing.
As always, drink responsibly and choose quality ingredients. If you do happen to accidentally overindulge though, check out my hangover tips from my Corpse Reviver 2 recipe!
The history of the cocktail
The Vesper first appears in the 1953 book, Casino Royale. James Bond asks a bartender for a dry martini, and then offers instructions for making it to his liking.
Bond requests 3 measures of Gordon’s gin, 1 measure of vodka, and a half measure of Kina Lillet, with a lemon peel for garnish.
He also specifies that the drink be shaken until very cold. This is important to note, because typically cocktails made with only spirits are stirred. More on the ‘shaken not stirred’ debate in a minute!
At this point in the James Bond story, the drink was just an unnamed gin and vodka martini. Later, Bond encounters a woman named Vesper Lynd and decides to name his cocktail after her.
Choosing your gin and vodka
The most important consideration is quality. If you use low quality spirits, this cocktail will be barely drinkable, as there are no juices or sweeteners to mask any unpleasant flavors.
Classic juniper-forward gins are a great choice here. I went with Holystone Distilling’s Bosun’s Navy Strength Gin and Zyr Vodka. The Bosun’s and Zyr are both very smooth spirits made from grains.
Both of these bottles were gifted to me recently and when I started writing up this recipe, I knew I wanted to feature them here. A Vesper is a great cocktail to make when you want to let the flavors of the spirits shine.
Substitutions for the Kina Lillet
Kina Lillet stopped being produced in the 1980s. So today the less bitter fortified and aromatized wine Lillet Blanc is often used in its place.
Some say that Cocchi Americano makes for a better substitute because it’s a bit more bitter, like the Kina. Lillet Blanc can be a bit easier to find (it’s even sold at my local Whole Foods), but Cocchi will make for a more authentic Vesper. Both will make for a great cocktail!
Don’t use dry vermouth
Keep in mind that Kina Lillet, Lillet Blanc, and Cocchi Americano are not interchangeable with dry vermouth. You can’t substitute with a dry vermouth here. A martini variation that is made with dry vermouth is the Gibson.
To shake or to stir?
If you’ve mixed more than a couple of classic cocktails, you’ve probably learned that cocktails made with only spirits, liqueurs, and syrups should be stirred instead of shaken. Drinks that incorporate juices, cream, or eggs are usually shaken.
The reason that stirring is preferred to shaking with drinks like martinis is that shaking tends to allow for a more diluted (read: watered down) drink. It also adds aeration and tiny ice chips to the finished cocktail, which you may or may not like.
Aeration and a light froth are wonderful in a cocktail with juice like a Daiquiri, but not as much in an all-spirits drink. Stirring will instead lend a smoother, more enjoyable mouthfeel.
So the Vesper should be stirred, right?
Well, maybe not. It’s up to you. Here’s why shaking a Vesper actually makes sense:
It’s a giant, booze-forward drink. The added dilution from shaking may make it more palatable, especially if you’re not accustomed to spirit-forward cocktails. But you’ll definitely want to fine strain the drink to avoid those pesky little ice shards that float on top.
Try it Bond’s way and see what you think. Personally I still prefer it stirred – but I do give it an extra long stir!
How to make a perfect stirred Vesper
You don’t need a fancy mixing glass to make stirred cocktails, but they are a really fun piece of equipment to invest in if you make a lot of stirred drinks.
You can also stir in the glass of a classic Boston shaker set, or any tall glass you have on hand. You just need a cocktail strainer, like a Julep or Hawthorne, in order to strain the liquid from the glass.
First, measure your gin, vodka, and Lillet or Cocchi Americano. You want to add your ingredients to the glass first, then fill the glass about ¾ with ice.
Now use a long-handled spoon to stir the cocktail. You want to place the spoon between the inside of the glass and the ice, cradling the cubes so that they move together as one unit around inside the glass. This will let you stir smoothly.
Stir for a long time. Really. I’d say it takes about 30 stirs or more to thoroughly chill and dilute a drink. If you don’t stir long enough, your drink will taste too strong and it won’t be nearly cold enough.
Chill your martini glass
Next, strain the liquid into a coupe or martini class. I highly recommend chilling your glass in the freezer beforehand.
If you don’t have any chilled glasses, you can fill your glass with ice and water before you start mixing. Let it sit while you stir, then dump the ice water out and strain the cocktail into the newly chilled glass.
If you decide to shake instead:
When shaking a Vesper, add the ingredients to the shaker first, then fill it about ¾ with ice.
Make sure your ice is fresh from the freezer and not wet or ‘melty.’ Wet ice will lead to an overly watered-down drink.
Shake for about 10-12 seconds, or until the shaker is frosty. Double strain the cocktail using a fine mesh strainer to avoid ice chips in your glass.
Garnish with expressed lemon oils
The garnish for a Vesper is a lemon peel. Expressing the citrus oils over the surface of the drink is the finishing touch and it adds a lot to the flavor and aroma of the drink. Don’t skip this step! If you want to add some flair to your Vesper, try one of the garnish ideas from my Guide to Citrus Peel Garnishes!
You can use any cocktail glass you like for a Vesper – just make sure it’s large enough. The martini glass I’ve used here is from Hospitality Brands.
You might also enjoy these other spirit-forward classic cocktails:
Classic Vesper Martini
- 3 oz gin
- 1 oz vodka
- ½ oz Lillet Blanc (or Cocchi Americano)
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill it 3/4 with ice.
- Stir until chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an expressed lemon peel.