A co-worker today sent me an e-mail full of fun holiday drinks that are supposedly easy to make for guests at your next holiday party.
They all required several different kinds of expensive liquors – the kinds that most of us mere mortals usually don’t keep in the house.
Easy to make, huh?
But the thing that made me crazy about the collection of drinks was all of the co-called “martini” concoctions.
No! No! No!
A martini is a martini because it is comprised of three specific ingredients: vodka/gin, dry vermouth, and olives. Add or substitute anything else and it’s no longer the drink known as the martini.
For example, if you substitute pickled onions for the olives, it becomes a gibson. Or, if you add Rose’s lime juice, it becomes a gimlet. (It’s okay to add olive juice to a martini because of the olives – this is known as a “dirty” martini.)
There simply cannot be something known as a ‘carrot cake martini.’
For the martini purist (such as yours truly), there is only one exception to this rule.
British novelist Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond – the fictional secret agent who tells us that a martini should be “shaken, not stirred,” – invented and named the ‘Vesper’ or Vesper martini in his novel “Casino Royale,” published in 1953.
In it, Mr. Bond tells a bartender to use these ingredients: Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Then he instructs the bartender to shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.
Alas, it is now impossible to make an actual Vesper, as described by James Bond.
Kina Lillet is no longer manufactured. Its 200-year-old formulation was changed in the late 1980s and renamed as Lillet Blanc. Now Lillet has a lighter floral citrus flavor, which supposedly caters to today’s taste for all things fruit flavored and sugary. More’s the pity. To recreate the original bitter flavor of Kina Lillet, you can add a dash or two of Angostura bitters.
Gordon’s has been reformulated, as well. But Tanqueray is still 94-proof and is an acceptable replacement for the now weaker 80-proof Gordon’s.
And, most of today’s vodkas have been rendered disturbingly unremarkable in taste because of over-distillation – which also lessens the alcohol level – and means it’s not the vodka James Bond requires for his Vesper. However, Stolichnaya still makes 100-proof vodka – and its natural peppery sub-note plays well with the overall flavor of the Vesper. It also raises the martini back to its original alcoholic potency.
I have made a Vesper only twice. It’s the sort of cocktail that begs to served on special occasions…such as the holidays. I have not entirely ruled out the possibility that there might be a time and a place to drink something called a ‘peppermint patty martini’ – but I remain dubious.
So sayeth the StickMonkey.