The Vesper Cocktail is one of my favorite “martini”s. It isn’t strictly a martini but because it contains gin and has been promoted by probably the most famous martini drinker of all time (Bond… James Bond) most people think of it as a martini. It is certainly sophisticated enough to be a martini. In any case, if you like gin martinis – the ones real men drink – then you (will) almost certainly like the Vesper cocktail also.
Having gone on a Vesper binge during the Summer, I didn’t have the exact right ingredients; fortunately I had enough xxx gin left to see how it fairs in this recipe… surprisingly well I’m glad to say. Barr Hill is made with honey (see the bee on the label and cork?). Most booze made with honey is a recipe for disaster – think mead. I love honey, but honey is a very interesting substance chemically and tends not to combine, cook, ferment or distill well. Honey can even fail if added to some kinds of hot tea – the chemicals in the tea break down the honey in a way that just ruins them both. So flavoring or sweetening booze with honey has a good chance of going sideways. But Barr Hill pulls it off superbly. On it’s own – neat or on ice – Barr Hill is very good. The honey is there but not at all “the” flavor, and it’s 90 proof but still very smooth. So (a) clean, (b) smooth, (c) almost at the traditional 94 proof called for in the original Vesper recipe… has to be a winner. And it is. You cannot buy Kena Lillet any more, but Cocchi Americano is close and that’s what you should use for a modern Vesper cocktail. The Cocchi brings out a bit more of the Barr Hill’s honey character making this combination sweeter (not truly sweet, but “sweeter”) while remaining a bona fide gin cocktail – that you can get really hammered by if you are not careful. It’s very easy to drink and you can get through a couple before you realize just how much alcohol is in it. So enjoy but do so with forethought.