Category Archives: Vodka

Vintage Cocktails #64: The Vesper

“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, (1953)

The Vesper Martini appears in the first James Bond novel, Casino Royal, and despite the fact that it is an excellent drink, never appears in another Bond novel. You will have a hard time making a true to the original Vesper, as many of the products have been changed since 1953. For example, the gin specified is Gordon’s, which in the 1980′s was reduced in proof from the traditional 94 to 80. In addition, Kina Lillet, the bitter fortified wine called for has been reformulated to contain less quinine, and therefore is missing the bitter kick that it once had.

If you are wanting to make this drink, there are several suggestions of which to take note of. Firstly, a traditional London Dry Gin of high proof such as Tanqueray is recommended. The vodka should be 100 proof as well, and of russian origin. Stolichnaya makes a 100 proof that works well. As for the Kina Lillet, one option is to add some quinine powder to the drink. The other option is to use Cocchi Americano, another fortified wine that is reportedly similar in taste to the original Kina Lillet.

One other recommendation I would take, is to half the recipe, or split it between two friends. 4 oz of 100 proof spirit is a lot for anyone to ingest at one time, and as Harry Craddock said in the Savoy Cocktail Book, a cocktail should be consumed “quickly…while it’s laughing at you”. A smaller cocktail ensures that the drink stays cold while you drink it, and perhaps is better for propriety’s sake anyways. Cheers!

The Vesper
3 oz Gin
1 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc

Vintage Cocktails #52: The Moscow Mule

In 1934, Rudolph Kunetchansky secured the rights from Vladimir Smirnov to produce Smirnoff Vodka in the US. At this time vodka was a relatively new product in the US market, not very popular, and was mostly sold to european immigrants. Trying to sell an unpopular spirit was not working financially for Rudolph, and in 1939, Rudolph sold the business to John Martin, an executive for G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc., an east coast spirits company. One of John Martin’s good friends was Jack Morgan, president of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products (which produced ginger beer) and owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull Tavern, a bar on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In 1941, these men would change the spirit world forever with their push to use vodka as a predominant mixing spirit. An article from the New York Herald Tribune recounts the tale:

The mule was born in Manhattan but “stalled” on the West Coast for the duration. The birthplace of “Little Moscow” was in New York’s Chatham Hotel. That was back in 1941 when the first carload of Jack Morgan’s Cock ‘n’ Bull ginger beer was railing over the plains to give New Yorkers a happy surprise… Three friends were in the Chatham bar, one John A. Morgan, known as Jack, president of Cock ‘n’ Bull Products and owner of the Hollywood Cock ‘n’ Bull Restaurant; one was John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc. of Hartford, Conn., and the third was Rudolph Kunett, president of the Pierre Smirnoff, Heublein’s vodka division. As Jack Morgan tells it, “We three were quaffing a slug, nibbling an hors d’oeuvre and shoving toward inventive genius”. Martin and Kunett had their minds on their vodka and wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot joined with Morgan’s ginger beer and the squeeze of a lime. Ice was ordered, limes procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good. It lifted the spirit to adventure. Four or five later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule…

John, Jack, and Rudolph had created a drink that would become hugely popular throughout Los Angeles, and soon spread coast to coast, taking vodka with it. But what of the mug? As luck would have it, John Martin’s girlfriend happened to inherit a copper goods business, and he used her company to further his marketing campaign. Engraved copper mugs were ordered, and Martin began his tour across the country. In every bar he stopped at, he would take a polaroid picture of the bartender holding his copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff. These pictures would then be shown at the next bar, giving credence to their products. This marketing campaign was so successful that between 1947 and 1950, Smirnoff case sales nearly tripled.

Although the drink was popular for a time, its season soon faded as ginger beer never really caught on as a mainstream product. In addition, nice shiny copper mugs made pickpockets out of otherwise upstanding bar patrons. Vodka was now used in a majority of cocktails, and it was easier to take the drink off the menu than replace mugs and stock ginger beer. Luckily for us, ginger beer has seen a renaissance recently and you can find several high quality varieties at most grocery stores. Cheers!

The Moscow Mule
2 oz Vodka
1/2 Lime
Ginger Beer

MxMo LIII: Like That? You’ll Love This!

This Month’s Mixology Monday is hosted by Chris Amirault at the eGullet forums. Chris has suggested for the theme, “Like That? You’ll Love This!” Here’s how he describes it:

Here’s the story. At the bar where I now work, I regularly receive requests for the bar staples of the late 20th century, espresso martinis, appletinis, and other things that end inappropriately in -tini. Though these are standard-issue drinks at most bars, Cook & Brown Public House aims for a classic approach that eschews the pucker line, flavored vodkas, and bottled sour mix.

I’ve been talking with other bartenders and they, too, want to find a balance between customer service and stocking products that they can’t or won’t back. In addition, a well-made tweak of someone’s favorite can be just the ticket through the gate to the sort of quality cocktails you want to serve guests at home or at work. Hence this MxMo, devoted to sharing gateway drinks that allow you to say, “If you like that, you’ll love this!”

With that in mind, lets get to work. Currently I am not employed at a bar, and most of the people that come to my home bar know what kind of drinks I make. However, when I have someone new over and ask them what they would like, I often get answered by blank stares. Knowing that many of these people are used to sweeter, sugary drinks, I will ask them what they usually get. A Lemon Drop is by far the most common answer, and I think the easiest gateway cocktail to work with. Almost every bar makes at least an approximation of one, and it’s really not that bad of a cocktail. Being of the sour family, it’s formulation is about the same as a classic Daiquiri, or a Whiskey Sour, or a Sidecar. All of which I would consider great cocktails. So with that in mind, some simple tweaks of said Lemon Drop can be a great way to educate someone, and get them deeper into the world of cocktails.

We’ll take our basic sour formula of 2-1-1, and mix up our Lemon Drop.

Lemon Drop
2 oz Citrus Vodka
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice

Now we have a couple of choices for our next iteration. We could replace the vodka with gin, we could replace the simple syrup with an orange liqueur, we could add bitters, or we could do all three. I usually will do maybe two of the three, with the goal of slowly working in other ingredients slowly. So lets do that and see how it works.

Improved Lemon Drop
2 oz Citrus Vodka
1 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
2 dashes Lemon or Orange Bitters


Gin Sour
2 oz Gin
1 oz Simple Syrup
1 oz Lemon Juice
2 Dashes Lemon Bitters

With these drinks we have taken a simple vodka sour and made it more interesting by substitution and/or addition. Neither drink is a bold departure from the original as to not scare the person away, but both are still more complex (in taste, not execution) than the original. From here we can continue down the white spirits list and introduce the Collins, French 75, Daiquiri, or we can introduce some dark spirits in the form of a Sidecar, Whiskey Sour, etc. Choosing a basic cocktail and slowly expanding it is a great way to get someone to expand their drinking sights. And when they have been to the good side, I don’t think most will want to go back. Cheers, and thanks again to Chris for hosting. Be sure to check out the eGullet Forums for the roundup!