The recipe for a Vesper, a lesson in technique.

The recipe for a Vesper, a lesson in technique.

A friend of mine asked me “the Zig Zag Vesper: I adore Murray’s version. I don’t suppose you have any inkling how he does it? I’m trying to recreate as closely as possible on a trip to Los Angeles. (Otherwise we’d just plop ourselves down at the bar at Zig Zag.)”

I quickly responded:

“I’m sure, he makes it 1.5 oz gin, .5 vodka and between .5 and .25 Lillet Blanc, the drink is traditionally shaken, but true form would stir such a drink, I don’t know which he does. Then it gets s a heavy lemon zest. If you don’t zest the lemon over the glass, you are fucking up” “There are supposedly no “good” bars in la, so good luck, also my favorite way to make the drink is to use a very citric or high proof gin like martin miller’s, a vegetal style potato vodka like luksosowa or Chopin and I always go heavy on the Lillet, even though the recipe says “splash” that was when drinks were smaller, so I feel that .5 is acceptable” “And that is the vesper, bond says shake it for texture, though that is the wrong procedure, you’ll find most bartenders shake everything anyway. So really that’s one that you can’t go wrong except that you must shake it furiously if you shake and stir gently if you stir, but now I am ranting” “Does that make sense?”

Shake or Stir the Vesper

I thought that was better than a glance at the Internet, but she had another question:

“Basically. I’m actually buying the liquor–so no limits from the barkeeps, just my own finesse. A couple of recipes mention bitters, etc. I’m assuming ski it? And I can go with a stir, but I’m not totally sure what that means.”

I then responded:

It 2 am, frankly I’m drunk, tomorrow is my first day off in 16 days. I’ll explain it very thoroughly tomorrow”

In my defense I just opened a new bar called Naga in the re-opening restaurant Chantanee and I was tired. Upon awakening I thought to myself, “hey Brett Favre, how to you throw a football?” He seems a down to earth guy, I reckon he’d say: “I just cock my arm, see where I want it to go and throw it.” This is true for Brett Favre, perhaps a more in-depth answer would be: “well, Andrew, I’ve been in the NFL for 17 years, played for South Miss before that, and high school ball before that, and frankly, I am a professional quarterback, its what I do, almost half my life has been dedicated to being good at that one thing.” And with Brett Favre’s inspirational ghost sitting on my shoulder, I wrote this back:

The Bar Naga at Chantanee

The Bar Naga at Chantanee

Here is everything that one would need to know about how to make a vesper and the proper technique, seriously, this is everything that goes through my head when I make a drink. A vesper is a cocktail that needs to be strained in a chilled cocktail glass, a martini glass is a glass with a martini in it, a martini is a combination of gin and vermouth and sometimes-orange bitters. A martini needs to be strained into a chilled cocktail glass. What I’m trying to say, is that there is only one instance when is proper to call a glass a martini glass, that is when it has said cocktail, is indeed strained into a cocktail glass. A chilled cocktail glass is essential, otherwise, you go to the trouble of carefully marrying booze with cold, and only to warm is again when you put it in the glass. Chill glasses in the freezer or fridge, or quick chill them as we say by filling them with ice and water. There are two ways to execute the vesper, the way in the book and the way that a real bartender would make it.

Book: shaken real: stirred.

This has nothing to do with not shaking vermouth or gin; it has everything to do with what ingredients are used. When all ingredients are clear, aka, booze, the drink must be gently stirred as to keep the texture silky smooth and free of air bubbles.

Whenever you mix in a juice or syrup, the ingredients must be shaken. While every drink need not be shaken furiously, you should shake until the shaker frosts and try to get this done as soon as possible (by shaking hard). But understand that I routinely make whipped cream in a shaker by adding cream sugar and ice and shaking until the ice is gone, my point is if you shake too long the ice will be the water in your drink. For stirring: get a mixing glass (again, when it is filled with beer we call it a pint glass), fill it with cracked ice, crack the ice by hand just before you drop it into the glass.

For Stirring: Cracking ice on stirred drinks maximized the surface area of ice to booze but you still get the cold from the ice of the fresh ice. When stirring, stir for at least 30 seconds, and when stirring think of the booze as stationary and that you are moving the ice through it. When stirring, understand that the point is to introduce no air into the drink. When straining from glass, you use a julep strainer; place it inside the glass and strain into the chilled cocktail glass

A crystal lake of still booze

A crystal lake of still booze

For Shaking: get a Boston shaker that is the one that is glass and metal. To use a cobbler shaker, a 3 piece metal shaker, is an art that I’ll go out on a limb and say that hardly any American bartender understands, let alone the novice (the Japanese have mastered this art, it is called the hard shake). That being said, cobbler shakers are pretty and it’s nice to have one around. A Boston shaker however is a mixing glass and a tin that fits over it, build the drink over cubed ice (it will break when you shake it) attach the tin to the top firmly and shake with 2 hands, one holding the end of each part of the mixer. Never shake a Boston shaker with the glass end pointing at a person. When you have formed the frost on the tin turn the shaker so that all of the drink is in the tin with the butt of the glass pointing up. To remove the glass twist it, if this doesn’t work, look at the space between the openings of the tin and where the frost is forming, tap in the middle of those two lines and the shaker will open. Never open it upside down, when shaking a drink, you strain from metal and never tap the lip of the tin on the bar to open it, aside from being bad form, it is pathetic, and when I see a man do it, I wish him dead. But I digress, when straining for metal (only after shaking) use a Hawthorne strainer. Don’t let the drink sit too long and don’t pour it into something else first (you loose the bubbles), the point of shaking to quote harry Cradock is to “consume the cocktail while all of the bubbles are still laughing at you.”

Only Jim Romdall could bruise a drink more

Only Jim Romdall could bruise a drink more

The zest: use a channel knife or a y peeler to cut a zest above the glass, so that the oils spring onto the surface of the drink and the glass itself. When using a channel knife, twice around the lemon is proper, the y peeler, and the length of the lemon. Twist the zest over that glass and drop it in.

My favorite way to make the drink is to use a very citric or high proof gin like martin miller’s, a vegetal style potato vodka like luksosowa or Chopin and I always go heavy on the Lillet, even though the recipe says “splash” that was when drinks were smaller, so I feel that .5 is acceptable its important to use Lillet Blanc and keep it fresh. Lillet rouge is a clone of Dubbonet much as Dubbonet Blanc is a clone of Lillet Blanc. Lillet is wine based and will go bad and visibly oxidize at room temperature; after it is opened it needs to be refrigerated.

Simply put by a my Boston style bar guide:

Vesper Cocktail Recipe

1.5 oz Gin

.5 oz Vodka

.25 Lillet Blanc

Twist of lemon

Strain into a cocktail glass


This entry was posted in brands, Gin, lillet, technique, vodka. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The recipe for a Vesper, a lesson in technique.

  1. db says:

    I will be in for a vesper tomorrow.

  2. A.J. says:

    Dang, now I wish I would have had a vesper last Friday. Though watching you throw the Blue Blazer was entertaining too. Really though, I just wanted to thank you for sticking up for the “cocktail glass” as opposed to the mis-called-every-day “martini glass.” It’s good to know there are more of us out there fighting that good fight. Go cocktail glass go!

  3. Tom Zahm says:

    The original Vesper called for Kina Lillet, which is very bitter. (See Wikipedia) Since it’s not available anymore, I experimented with using Campari (yes, the one whose name is on the sun umbrellas), a bitter Italian aperitif as a substitute. The result, a “Matin”, wasn’t half bad (except in my wife’s opinion). See for details.

  4. Pingback: Technique: How to stir a drink and how to please a woman. « Caskstrength

  5. Beefeater says:

    Awesome read!! This is currently being featured as our cocktail of the week at Beefeater

    Instructional video on how to make this cocktail:


    3 PARTS Beefeater London Dry Gin

    1 PART Stolichnaya Vodka

    1/2 PART Lillet Blanc

    DASH Angostura bitters (to add a touch of the quinquina that was in the original Kina Lillet formula)

    SHAKE All ingredients over ice

    STRAIN Into a chilled champagne goblet

    GARNISH With a large slice of lemon peel

  6. brent butler says:

    greetings andrew, i stumbled upon your wonderful blog a few weeks back and it is now mandatory reading material for me. i am bartender in san francisco who recently helped open what has become a very successful neighborhood bar. while i am not an owner or principle, i have been told that my contributions, namely most of the current cocktail menu and almost all of the next menu we are working on have been important to our current success. we employ bartenders at a wide range of experience and more importantly, enthusiasm.
    although i’ve been doing this job for a number of years, only in the past three or so have i mad a concerted effort to refine my technique and expand my knowledge at every opportunity. i recently joined the usbg for example. my question is, well let me explain first. i was under the impression when this bar opened that a certain level of technique was expected of all staff members, double-straining, stirring, fresh juice squeezes, etc. however, a lot of the staff have been taking shortcuts like digging glasses into the ice and other amateur moves. i put in a lot of hours outside of work developing or menu, printing out educational info for the staff,etc. and now it seems to be coming to light that what the ownership really wants is just that the drinks be made as fast as possible, basically i need to be selling more. ive tried to plead my case by stating that i believe every guest deserves a perfect drink and i think its kind of fallen on deaf ears. so if you were me do you assess who really knows what a vieux carre is and make those drinks with care and slop out everything else? basically im wondering how i reconcile my own personal standards with that of my employer. any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
    thank you from fog city

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s