James Bond invented a drink in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale.
“A dry martini,” Bond said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“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, Casino Royale)
What a guy. This later became the Vesper Martini (named for his love-of-the-moment Vesper Lynd). You’ll notice that the recipe calls for Kina Lillet, which has not been available since the early 1980s, so Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth is often substituted.
Vermouth is a an herb-flavored fortified wine. Industry folks call it an “aromatized” wine. Many herbs and spices are used, but the more classic version is the almost dry, bitter drink with the strong aroma of wormwood and other bitter herbs. Yes, I said wormwood (artemisia absinthium), a major ingredient in absinthe and rumored to have caused hallucinations. Turns out that some poisonous chemicals were added to cheaper versions of absinthe in the 19th century to give it a more vivid green color. Also, keep in mind that the people reporting these “visions” were very thirsty bohemian artists.
The wormwood did however inspire the creation of vermouth. In the 16th century, a Piemontese man named d’Alessio began marketing a medicinal concoction after enjoying a wormwood flavored Bavarian wine called wermuth. The “medicine”, used to treat gastric ills, also became popular in French royal circles and was called vermutwein. So what we have today is the Anglicized form of the word, vermouth.
Modern large-scale production dates to the 18th century in Piedmont, close to the alps, which were a source for the necessary botanicals. Brands such as Cinzano, Martini and the French Noilly Prat never claimed any curative powers, especially during the early and mid 20th century, when cocktails containing vermouth were incredibly popular.
There are three styles of vermouth on the market today: extra dry, bianco/white and sweet/red. White vermouths are often referred to as French vermouths and reds as Italian, but it’s not always the case. It’s also not the case that red wine is used as a base in red vermouth; the color comes from the caramelization of the sugar used to sweeten it.
My favorite vermouth producer is Dolin, produced in the only controlled appellation for vermouth, Chambéry. Theirs are lighter, more elegant and just plain prettier than most of the commercial producers.
Here’s how I take my medicine at home:
(if you have a catchier name, please post a comment)
2 oz. rye – I like Rittenhouse 100
2 oz. Dolin rouge
4 dashes orange bitters
combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously (no stirring, of course) and pour into a chilled martini glass. we don’t usually have our act together to serve it with a garnish, but a cherry or an orange wedge would do the trick.