A Dash of Bitters, Please.

An excerpt of yesterday’s The Cypress Room cocktail post on The Genuine Kitchen, particularly enjoyable to write (and further edit.)


Vesper — The Cocktails of The Ritz Paris, a new-old book with darling illustrations by Yoko Ueta, was recently acquired from the library of Ryan Goodspeed. In it, Colin Peter Field delves into the origin of classic cocktails which turns out is no simple feat (“the difficulty in finding the truth about a cocktail.”) The provenance of the Bloody Mary alone proves quite a colorful, eye-opening appetizer – er, amuse – thanks to excerpts from Hemingway’s own letters to his friendly barman, Bernie.

Yes, there is a common thread to cocktail creation myth — we find a professional behind the bar and a discerning customer in front of it, with requests. Nothing screams classic like James Bond, and this is no better exemplified than in the very real cocktail attributed to this fictional character and his creator. The story goes that our dapper secret agent in the 1953 novel Casino Royale and The Vesper’s immaculate conception.

“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”

Fleming continues with Bond telling the barman, after taking a long sip, “Excellent … but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better,” and then adds in an aside, “Mais n’enculons pas des mouches (English: But let’s not bugger flies—a vulgar French expression meaning “let’s not split hairs”). Bond in the next chapter, “Pink Lights and Champagne”, names it the Vesper, at the time of his first introduction to the beautiful Vesper Lynd. A Vesper differs from Bond’s usual cocktail of choice, the martini, in that it uses both gin and vodka, Kina Lillet instead of the usual dry vermouth, and a lemon peel instead of an olive.

“The Vesper is part of my new gin thing,” Michael explains. “They are balanced and dry and pretty powerful. I like mine shaken, which makes for a crisp, more chilled result. Mellows it a bit, but not too much! I even ask for a dash of Bergamot bitters to be added.”

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