Cigar Aficionado

James Bond's Secret Formula Revisted

Lillet, the Bordeaux-based maker of wine aperitifs, recently introduced a limited-edition bottle that reprises a classic image from its collection of advertising poster art: the 1937 image of a woman reveling in a flowing white dress, bottle of Lillet in one hand, cocktail in the other, with grapes vines in fruition in the foreground. The 70th anniversary "Roby" bottle celebrates the 70th anniversary of the poster by Robert "Roby" Wolff, which is the highest selling in Lillet's history.

I mention this for a couple of reasons. The first is because I so enjoy that style of art (check out Lillet's website for more examples) especially in a time when we are being barraged with ugly, noisy advertising images. Second is that it allows me to segue into other topics near to my heart: Martinis and James Bond.

Lillet is the brand of aperitif that Bond substitutes for Vermouth when he invents his famous Vesper cocktail in "Casino Royale."

"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."

Purists would bemoan that that order opened the floodgates for the vodka Martini and worse savageries, but it was an iconic moment and served to make an important point about the Martini: the choice of aperitif counts. Even though he was ordering a dry martini, the secret agent was specific about what it should be mixed with—and none of this just whisper Vermouth bravado. He knew the Martini as a mixed drink and not a glass of chilled gin. Every ingredient was important.

If you're mixing along at home, however, be aware that the Lillet he called for (Kina) is not available any longer. Kina indicated quinine, and it was a bitter mixture that was phased out in 1985 as tastes changed. So have portions. Bond it ordered in a deep Champagne goblet with this reasoning:

"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 would suggest smallish glasses—like those that Nick and Nora Charles drank from in "The Thin Man" movies. Substitute White Lillet, which is still quite spicy with some fruit flavors and a very evident wine taste and you have a great preprandial cocktail. Lillet also makes a Red, which is fun to try when mixing Manhattans.

"Christian,Pegu Club (77 West Houston St., 2nd floor, 212-473-PEGU) assures me they make an excellent Vesper although it's not on the menu (in other words: order it.)Plus, the folks at Lillet suggest:Gordon Ramsay @ The London Hotel151 W. 54th St., New York, NY 10019near Seventh Ave. 212-468-8888and Hudson Bar & Books636 Hudson St(212) 229-2642With--drum roll--smoking allowedAnd the Brandy Library (25 N. Moore St. at Varick St., 212-226-5545 serves them seasonally (whatever that means)." —October 8, 2007 15:11 PM
"Once more for Jack. Any good spots in Manhattan for a Vesper Martini? " —October 4, 2007 13:59 PM
"Jack, any recc's on places that make a good Vesper Martini in Manhattan? " —September 13, 2007 13:27 PM
"Much appreciated Jack. I will be check it out and post my comments. Thanks again!" —October 9, 2007 17:07 PM