While looking up another cocktail that utilized gin and Lillet, I was reminded of the Vesper. The Vesper is one of the drinks in the world that confuses me to no end. The initial time I took an order for one at my first professional bar, I could not remember whether there was more gin or more vodka, so I made it equal parts. Then I learned the drink recipe via the illogical idea that there is only a small amount of vodka to weaken the flavors of the botanicals in the gin. I could see a vodka lover preferring 3 parts vodka to a single part of gin to make something as boldly flavor as say Plymouth out of Beefeater, but could any one detect gin diluted by 25%? Well, that part is symbolic for the Vesper is named after a double agent in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale and appearing British with a secret Russian ingredient in the mix is kind of crafty in a literary way. The Kina Lillet part is intriguing to me since today's Lillet or Cocchi Americano is rather light on the quinine, and I do not see many people getting excited about a gin-Lillet Martini such as the Richmond Cocktail. However, throw vodka into that with even less flavor and people request it with glee? And request it shaken? I have told guests that I will trust an author's take on mixology when an author will take my advice on how he should develop his book's plot. In the remake of the Casino Royale movie, James Bond is agitated about losing at the gambling table and his drink request is particular, but I see his shaken aspect as a sign of frustration instead of wanting a smooth cocktail like it should be. The more I thought about the cocktail and my opinions on it, the more I realized that I had never had more than a straw-taste of ones with Cocchi Americano and one with Kina l'Avion d'Or and that I ought to sink into my own glassful to contemplate it.
VesperThe Vesper fulfills that idea of "forgiving cocktails" since the exact ratios are not incredibly important and probably an equal parts drink would be delightful (albeit a hint sweeter and more citrus-wine flavored). Or perhaps fitting it to the Drink bar's 2:1/2:1/2 formula? That would probably taste about the same as the literary recipe. And then there are the ingredients. Kina Lillet is defunct and few quinquinas of that style have a crisp quinine signature to them, so using Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, or Kina l'Avion d'Or are all punts. Is Gordon's gin the same now as it was then? Here, I opted for the quirky Death's Door gin with its minimalist botanical blend and grain-forward distillate. And what about the vodka? Was it as clean then as it is today with its hyper-marketed dozen distillations and ultra-premium multiple filtration steps? Moreover, what about the proof dropping over the years to the point that most gins and vodkas are only 80? Instead of worrying about that, I went for a more flavorful vodka from Caledonia Spirits that distills fermented honey to donate earthy and floral components. True, I killed the British and Russian symbolism by using solely American products (save for the aromatized wine component that is), but I was after flavor considerations to make this mix more appealing to my palate. Surely most non-literary and non-movie buff drinkers would forgive my changes and perhaps some of my opinions? Maybe not, but it is the weekend before Mixology Monday and my deadline convinces me that I am rather forgiven.
"Three measures of Gordon's [gin], 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."
• 1 1/2 oz Death's Door Gin
• 1/2 oz Barr Hill Vodka
• 1/4 oz Cocchi Americano
Stir with ice and garnish with a lemon twist.
So thank you to Dagreb for picking the theme to challenge us to be less uptight about drinking. And may he forgive all of us for our choices this month and may he forgive the rest of you who did not pick up the mixing glass and keyboard by Monday night to participate in this 104th Mixology Monday. Finally, thanks again to all of you hosts and participants who have kept this nerdy online cocktail party alive and well for all these years!