In this era of striving to be more open-minded and actually considering the possibility that one’s views on something might be wrong, 2017 has seen me turning to vodka.
Here’s what I know about vodka – it has no taste and is made from potatoes.
And what I know about Martinis? Gin.
Anything that calls itself a “Martini” that does not contain gin, is not a Martini (I’m looking at you, Vodka “Martini”, Espresso “Martini”, and I’m not even talking to you Appletini).
So I’m conflicted about the so-called Vesper Martini. It has gin (tick). But also vodka (Clang).
It was also invented by a fictional character, so walking up to the bar and ordering one seems a bit like looking to Homer Simpson for inspiration as to what to eat for lunch.
But the Vesper is an IBA Official cocktail, so it deserves its time in the Shake, Stir, Muddle spotlight.
In 1953, Casino Royale first introduced us to James Bond.
Bond falls for a girl named Vesper whose parents presumably named her after evening prayers rather than the Italian motorbike. This is 2017 and we now know that a woman can shag whoever she pleases, but in the 1950s, there was a charming expression that would have deterred loving parents (even fictional ones) from naming their daughter after a town bike.
So yes, Vesper.
Bond goes undercover as a Jamaican playboy and is given a wad of public funds to play baccarat (it’s poker in the Daniel Craig movie, because poker is SO classy, which we know because Warnie plays it) and orders up what has become the Vesper cocktail.
You can’t order the exact cocktail anymore, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
First, a word on prudent Government expenditure.
I pay tax in Australia, where money is spent on important advertising campaigns that are intended to distract us from noticing Government inaction on climate change, but I still am outraged on behalf of the British taxpayers that Bond is given public money to gamble with.
I understand the mission imperative, but Bond is not the guy who should be given a weapon or cash.
Let’s ask some scientists to tell us why.
In December 2013, the British Medical Journal published THIS study that considered 007’s booze consumption.
Seems Bond had a weekly alcohol consumption of between 65 and 92 units, with a maximum daily intake of 49.8 units.
To put this in context, the British recommended limit for alcohol consumption for men in a week is 21 units.
But sure, here’s a license to kill Jimmy, we trust you.
Through the books and movies, Bond drinks anything from Heineken to Dom Perignon but he is best known for asking for vodka “martinis” shaken, not stirred.
Many, many people have view on the superiority of stirring a martini over shaking.
The primary objections are that it can “bruise” the gin (horseshit), or that shaking the ice may cause it to fracture and therefore put tiny shards of diluting ice in your drink (not horseshit, but a tolerable risk).
Bond’s recipe called for 3 measures of Gordons, 1 of vodka and half of Kina Lillet. Shaken.
Kina Lillet (pronounce it Keen-a Lillay) hasn’t been made for 30 years. It was an aromatised wine (like Vermouth and Dubonnet) that originally included cinchona bark from Peru, making it a quinine liqueur.
Back in the late 1800s, quinine liqueurs were considered “tonic wines”, in that they allegedly had some associated health benefits, but were bitter to the taste precisely because of the quinine.
Fast forward to the decade that reinvented taste – the 1980s – and the bitterness had fallen out of favour and Kina Lillet was no more. You can go to the trouble of sourcing powdered quinine if you must, but the Lillet Blanc that replaced it is actually a lovely tipple.
You can also substitute the Gordons for a gin of your choice.
As for the Vodka, who cares? It has no taste, right?
Well, dear Readers, seems I may have been too hasty in making this assessment.
As regular readers know, my commitment to research is high, my methods mostly half-arsed.
But this time, I thought that I should challenge my prejudices properly so called upon the expertise of Scott Barber at the world’s coldest Vodka Tasting Room at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, BC.
Apparently, donning an unflattering coat and entering an environment set at very antisocial temperatures is optimal for challenging prejudices surrounding the potato drink.
First error. Not only is the vast majority of today’s vodka made from grain, not potatoes, it wasn’t even originally a potato-based recipe.
See, the first written reference that can be found for vodka dates back to 1405, and potatoes didn’t arrive in Europe from Peru until the mid-1500s.
Let’s pause a moment and reflect on how shit European cuisine must have been before murderous bastards like Drake starting coming home with string bags full of spices and spuds and quinine from the New World.
Potatoes dominated vodka in the late 1700s when they were a cheaper raw material than wheat.
Now, only about 10% of vodka is made from potatoes and if you’re gluten intolerant, there’s no need to tell me, but you can just order up on the potato vodka.
But back to the coldest place on earth (give or take) that was giving me a warm inner glow.
Scott poured vodka like he was a Soviet double-agent and I was the beautiful and talented scientist who was the sole custodian of the secret formula that was needed to bring down the Western world.
You’ll be pleased to know that I held my liquor and the world is still safe(ish).
What is not safe though is my sweeping pronouncements about vodka.
Turns out vodka does have taste – in fact, it has four elements that we should all be paying attention to when we drink.
Fragrance. Feel (that’s in your mouth, don’t dip your fingers in it). Flavour. Finish.
We downed vodka from the Netherlands (Ketel One), Canada (East Van with the amazing label and Long Table from BC and Yukon Winter from yep, Yukon), Poland (Chopin and Zubrowka with bison grass and apparently not legal for sale in the USA) before Scott realised I was not going to crack under pressure.
As we left the ice chamber, Scott turned from Soviet double-agent to bartending wizard and served me up my very first Vesper.
While some of the finer details are a wee bit hazy my friends, it was GOOD (and OMG, so was the French Onion soup which accompanied it).
The Lillet softens the punch of the gin and vodka and you should probably play with proportions to get your favourite, but this – this cocktail that goes against EVERYTHING I previously stood for – has come up as a credible addition to my Go-To cocktails.
No, we won’t call it a martini, nor will it come close to replacing the actual martini as my drink of choice, but Shake, Stir, Muddle will press on with investigations into vodka and we will take pride in being able to point to one thing we’ve changed our mind about in recent weeks months years.
I think that proves I’m a grown-up, right?
PS Here’s a photo of a Vesper I had at the Qantas Lounge at LAX – I was waiting on a Negroni when I saw a bottle on a glass shelf with a handwritten label “Vesper, 8 week barrel-aged”.
See that warmth of colour? That comes from barrel-ageing (like whisky).
I swapped my Negroni order for a Vesper (as I said, research never rests). It had a richness of flavour that I appreciated for precisely three sips before spilling the rest over my three year old daughter just before we boarded a 15 hour flight.