The classic Vespar. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

The classic Vesper. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Having recently delighted in Skyfall with son James, and with a fresh bottle of Lillet on hand, and having never tried this preposterous sounding cocktail with the beguiling name, well, I had to give the Vesper a go. Checking my resources I noticed that one, the very elegant and excellent ratio-oriented book, See Mix Drink, includes a twist of orange rather than the customary lemon twist. I contacted the author, Brian D. Murphy, who explained his rationale via email:

“Alessandro, the bartender at the Dukes Hotel in London (where the cocktail originated), replaces the lemon with an orange peel. When I visited there and asked why, he said it pairs much better with the hint of orange in the Lillet Blanc—so well, in fact, that he believes the lemon peel in the original was a mistake. After tasting his version, I was hooked.”

As am I. The Lillet, a French aperitif, really makes this drink distinctive and the orange is a perfect finish. It’s a strong drink, which many on Twitter yesterday suggest I needed after a heated rant, but I wasn’t ready to go the full James Bond 3 : 1 gin to vodka ounce-wise (if only because the drink would be warm by the time I finished half a cup of booze). So to simplify, I follow Murphy’s version exactly, 2 : 1 : ½. If you want the exact version, happily reprinted on the cocktail’s wiki page, I recommend 30 grams gin, 10 grams vodka, five grams Lillet. And, after a good rant, perhaps a second.

Important: this is a Bond cocktail and so must be shaken, something I deplore because I hate ice chips in my martini. But Bond gets what he’s after, so I recommend a vigorous shaking, with a double strain to avoid those diluting ice fragments.

Happy Friday to all!

The Vesper

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • ½ ounce Lillet Blanc
  • orange twist

Combine fluids, shake like mad, strain through strainer to catch ice chips. Garnish with orange twist.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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20 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: The Vesper”

  • Laura

    You might want to clarify that it’s Lillet Blanc that you want for this recipe. In the US, Lillet also has a red version (Rouge) and a new pink version (Rose) – both tasty, but would very much change the nature of a vesper.

    Vespers are a house favorite here. I like to make them with Magellan gin, which is blue. Mixing it with the slightly yellow Lillet, you get a beautiful teal color. Fancy!

  • Benjamin

    The vesper originally called for Kina Lillet, which is no longer available. For a more accurate reproduction (and better cocktail) you might be interested to try cocchi americano.

  • Michael Villar

    I’ll try this when I get a bottle of Lillet. I’m not quite as suave as Bond, so I’ll just stir. The ‘ratio’ is pretty much the same as how I make my martini. 6 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth. Cheers, my friend.

  • Dean

    I also can’t stand ice chips in a martini so I pour the shaken cocktail through a fine mesh sieve. Works perfectly.

    The rant from earlier in the week was brilliant. It reminded me of the very sound type of advice Julia Child used to give – enjoy everything but don’t over do it. Sadly, the flaw in your approach is that it depends on people to think.

  • Sean

    The kind folks at Ace Beverage here in DC also recommended Cocci Americano as an authentic Lillet replacement. I enjoyed my Vesper enormously. As for my second Vesper, I am told I enjoyed that as well.

  • Miriam Carey

    “Vespers” are evening prayers for the Catholics among us…My brother once had a new girlfriend over and when my mother walked in, we asked her where she’d been, “At Vespers,” she answered. The new girlfriend, eager to please my mother asked, “Oh, is that a new restaurant?”

    I’m going to try the recipe just to be able to say “Oh, I’ve been at Vespers….”

  • Grant Colvin

    I’ve made this cocktail both ways–with Lillet Blanc and with Cocchi Americano–and I much prefer the latter. Like the original Kina Lillet, Cocchi Americano includes a bitter component from quinine (the same stuff that gives tonic water its distinctive flavor). It never occurred to me to try it, but orange peel really makes sense for the Lillet version; however, for the Cocchi version, I think lemon peel contributes an indispensable counterpoint to the quinine overtone. By the way, I think the screenwriter for the recent movie version of Casino Royale may have had the Cocchi version in mind. When Bond tells Vesper that he is naming the drink after her, she says, “Because of the bitter aftertaste?” (To which he replies, “Because after you’ve tasted it, it’s all you want to drink.”) Cheers!

  • Allen

    I would like the villains cocktail; 50 year old Macallan. Mr. Bond was drinking Heineken beer this time.
    But a classic martini or an aviation will have to do for this working class.
    A View To A Kill Bond made quiche, when real men didn’t eat quiche. That must be me, I love quiche!

  • Auntie Allyn

    Does Lillet have a shelf life, once it’s opened? I’ve had an opened bottle for close to a year, perhaps I should splurge on a new bottle before trying this cocktail.

  • Peyton

    I’m sold on the cocktail, based on the photo. The orange belongs in a still life. Kudos to Donna!

  • Allen

    Irish coffee & the Love Bug, old school movie combo for St Patricks day. Goddamnit!

  • Allen

    Irish coffee with fresh heavy cream sweetened with vanilla sugar. Goddamm gimme a new pope!!

  • Kevin

    Benjamin
    The vesper originally called for Kina Lillet, which is no longer available. For a more accurate reproduction (and better cocktail) you might be interested to try cocchi americano.

    I third the recommendation on Cocchi Americano. I read that Lillet was reformulated years ago to better suit the American palate (sweeter, less bitter). Cocchi Americano is supposed to be the closest thing to what Ian Fleming meant.

  • Deanna

    This question isn’t really relevant to this post, but you and your readers are my best shot at getting it answered:

    Is there a reason people don’t add salt to sweeter drinks (especially those with a sugared rim or sweetened with simple syrup) to bring out the flavor of the ingredients? .

  • Bobby Jay

    Yes, orange peel is good with Lillet. Here’s another nice dink with those two ingredients, the Negroni Saignée, invented by Sam Clifton of Telepan:

    Combine equal parts of Charbay Blood Orange Vodka, Aperol and white Lillet with a splash of Orange Bitters. Shake well in a cocktail shaker or stir in a pitcher. Serve straight up in a martini glass with a twist of orange peel.

  • Victoria

    The idea of using the orange in the Vesper to enhance the essence of it in Lillet Blanc sounds brilliant; when serving as an aperitif, I put an orange slice in Lillet Blanc on the rocks. (I keep my Lillet in the refrigerator. Is that a no-no? I also usually have Pineau des Charentes there too, which I find to be another delicious French aperitif.) After reading the comments here, I am going to see if my store has Cocchi Americano; I had never heard of it before.

    I’ve read good things about a Corpse Reviver #2 a few times but never had one. I don’t think you’ve written about it, but a commenter has. Any thoughts on this one?

  • Sean

    This sounds totally serendipitous , but I actually stumbled on this article while actually drinking a Vesper. My only comment is that this drink really requires 100 proof vodka (in addition to the cocchi americano if you can find it, mentioned by Benjamin) to be truly authentic to the version that Fleming described in the book. Especially if you are going to go short on the gin.

  • Phillip

    Vespers are delicious. I like to make them with Lillet Rose and a bit of a grapefruit peel sometimes too.

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