The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky & May Day

by Eddy Colloton with Craig Ormiston

Jump to Tchaikovsky Recipe OR Jump to May Day Recipe

Portrait of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tchaikovsky2.jpg

Portrait of Grace Jones by Andy Warhol, source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/329607266474523854/?lp=true

While the USSR had a complicated relationship with art (to say the least), one form of cultural production that the state endorsed with enthusiasm was Swan Lake featuring a dramatic score penned by Russian composer par excellence Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Stalin saw the ballet dozens of times, establishing a precedent his successors embraced exponentially. Nikita Khrushchev once confided to a Bolshoi dancer that he had seen the state-sponsored Swan Lake so often that the thought of having to see it again made him ill. In light of this nationalistic Soviet fascination with Tchaikovsky’s work, it’s not surprising that KGB agent Pola Ivanova exclaims the composer’s name with orgasmic gusto during her “detente” with James Bond in A View to a Kill (1985).

Bond and Ivanova’s triste takes place in the waning years of the Cold War, perhaps permitting a lighter touch when depicting the decades-old conflict between the capitalists and the commies. This mirrored Moore’s waning tenure as 007, which similarly may have allowed a more indulgent depiction of everyone’s favorite MI6 agent. The film is certainly one of the campiest of the franchise, but, to be fair, it would be hard to take a 57 year-old spy seriously (the actor later said he was “only about 400 years too old for the part”). While this fluffy fair has inspired vitriol in some Bond fans, there are many redeeming qualities to this 80s romp.

I was delighted to find that the hosts of my favorite podcast, Matt & Matt of James Bonding, shared my appreciation for a geriatric Bond, Grace Jones, and French private detective Achille Aubergine in their cross-over podcast with How Did This Get Made. When Craig and I had the opportunity to share some of our cocktails with the Matts, the crowd favorite cocktail from our A View to a Kill party was an obvious choice.

Inspired by the lighthearted cold war spy craft in the jacuzzi and Fiona Fullerton’s delivery of an incredible innuendo, our take on a vodka fizz, “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky,” started as one of the tougher cocktails to conceive in our series thus far, and pivoted to something we’re very, very proud of.

A Name in Search of a Drink

Source: https://www.pinterest.cl/pin/474918723175491361/?lp=true

If you couldn’t tell from my indulgent introduction, I flipping love A View to a Kill and the hot tub scene holds a special place in my heart. The nostalgia dial is cranked up to eleven for me during that sequence, audio cassettes and all. So when it came to devising a cocktail for this film, we knew we wanted to pay homage to this whacky line if we could, but all we had was…bubbles?

We had already done a champagne cocktail for Live and Let Die, but figured one more couldn’t hurt; can’t have too much of a good thing. I started down a road of trying to play on the California setting of the film by looking for ingredients I associate with the golden state that might pair nicely with bubbly vino. I’m constantly trying to work one of my favorite liqueurs into our drinks, Iris liqueur by Elixir Craft Spirits. Iris has this great floral quality, which seemed to fit the film’s San Francisco setting. The botanical flavor screams Pacific Northwest, as Kathy Casey’s NW Vesper cocktail demonstrates nicely.

My first attempts at combining Iris with sparkling white wine included lime and cointreau for some reason, and have lots of encouraging remarks scribbled next to the recipe notes like “gross” and “undrinkable.” I liked the floral quality of the drink, but just couldn’t find a way to marry the flavors.

The San Francisco Cocktail

Source: https://truthfulnerd.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/james-bond-a-view-to-a-kill-1985-review/

Our menu for the A View to a Kill party, Photo by Craig Ormiston

Meanwhile, Craig went down his own rabbit hole. While the Manhattan may be the preeminent American cocktail named after its city of origin, our research led us to another classic cocktail taking its name from The City. According to Brian McGregor’s research, the earliest reference to the “San Francisco” cocktail was published in London in 1937 in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book and includes the recipe: Equal parts sloe gin, dry vermouth, and sweet vermouth, along with dashes of orange bitters and Angostura bitters.

Craig was smitten with this idea in honor of San Francisco’s role in A View to a Kill and found it a ripe opportunity to feature sloe gin on one of our menus. Sloe gin isn’t really gin perse; it’s more akin to a liqueur with strong notes of plum. Craig and I are both big fans of Hayman’s gin, so their variety of this cardinal-colored cordial seemed like the obvious place to start.

While I battled sparkling wine to introduce bubbles, Craig attempted introducing egg whites and aquafaba (chickpea-soaked water that can serve as a vegan protein alternative to egg whites) to many drafts of his San Francisco riff. After burning through two full bottles of sloe gin, countless vermouth pairings, and many hangovers, Craig’s experiments were not yielding results. Our concepts felt muddled, overburdened, and amiss.

As our self-imposed deadline of a cocktail party loomed and neither of us were getting very far, we began to question our inspiration altogether.

May Day May Day May Day

Many of our drink concepts draw from unique variations on tropes and key ingredients every Bond film shares. One such go-to is the role of “henchman,” an enforcer for the often more hands-off, intellectual villain. Henchmen—Oddjob, Jaws, Baron Samedi, and even Nick Nack—are arguably the most memorable characters of the franchise. My personal favorite very well maybe May Day in A View to a Kill.

Source: https://www.1843magazine.com/style/my-fashion-moment/giorgio-armani-on-dressing-grace-jones

Played by the indomitable Grace Jones, May Day’s onscreen presence is indebted to the performer's offscreen persona. Jones was a major player in the New York “downtown” art scene of the 70s and 80s (her tardy attendance to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver’s wedding is among the more tame anecdotes from this time period). Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jones is in the Tate’s permanent collection, her long running collaboration with Jean Paul Goude yielded incredibly striking covers to her albums, and she was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe after Keith Haring painted her body. All of these portraits demonstrate Ms. Jones’ powerful presence, physique, and stellar modeling ability. Her star quality is clearly evoked in every image, true for her role in A View to a Kill as well. She manages to steal scenes even when up against the ultimate scenery chewer, Christopher Walken.

While Grace Jones has already had more than one cocktail named after her (one of which is over $14K a glass), we ventured to create another to pay homage to the most 80s henchwoman ever. In reference to Grace Jones’ Studio 54 days, I sought to riff on a Manhattan for the May Day cocktail. We created a coffee-infused sweet vermouth using 1 teaspoon NoVo coffee and 6 oz Carpano Antica Formula, and initially paired that with Rye Whiskey. I tried adding Campari, twisting the drink into a Boulevardier, but the bitterness of the Campari didn’t really play well with the coffee infused Antica.

Having sampled many of Craig’s attempts to incorporate sloe gin into a cocktail, I was weary when he reached for the bottle to complicate this straightforward coffee-infused Manhattan. Keeping things simple in a cocktail is always a good rule of thumb, but you can’t know if you’ve taken it too far unless you push the limit. Since Craig was particularly invested in this ingredient, and since an unembellished cocktail doesn’t really fit View’s ethos, we tried packing a bit of sloe gin into an otherwise unassuming cocktail. Much to my surprise the elements played together nicely in what turned out to be a vermouth forward twist on a whiskey cocktail.

Recipe: May Day

1 ounce Rittenhouse 100 Rye

1 ounce Coffee Bean-Infused Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

½ ounce Hayman's Sloe Gin

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Garnish Maraschino Cherry

Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Infusion: 1 teaspoon coffee beans per 6 oz of Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth

May Day cocktail, Photo by Eddy Colloton

Keeping Things Russian

Having achieved a delicious recipe for the May Day, we were still without a drink to honor one of our favorite quotes in the franchise. “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky” still begged to come to life. With the San Francisco cocktail too closely resembling the Manhattan riff we had made and having found a home for all the sloe gin we had been drinking in the May Day, it no longer made sense to chase the San Francisco cocktail concept.

This liberated us to go back to the drawing board altogether and change the base spirit in the drink. With Pola Ivanova as a prominent Russian presence, vodka was a natural choice. We tried a few sparkling wine and vodka combinations with little success. Realizing no champagne or sparkling wine played a role in the hot tub scene, we comfortably abandoned vino in favor of a vodka fizz format. When toiling on the San Francisco concept, aquafaba proved easier to work with than egg whites at scale and its vegan qualities both felt safer for crowds and felt fitting for the San Francisco inspiration. After a preliminary draft with vodka, aquafaba, simple syrup, and club soda, we knew we were onto something profound (and yet decidedly simple).

While Iris did not play as well as we would have hoped, we still wanted to keep the floral qualities of earlier drafts. After less than ideal experiments with brown butter-washed vodka and thyme infused vodka, infusing vodka with lavender proved especially easy and delicious. Adding elderflower notes through St-Germain took it up another notch. A few drafts later, “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky” came to life and quickly became one of our most popular cocktails (the sum total of these drinks ordered at our A View to a Kill party drained 3.5 liters of lavender-infused vodka alone)

The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky, Photo by Craig Ormiston

Recipe: The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky

1 ½ ounces Lavender-Infused Stolichnaya Vodka

1 ounce Aquafaba

½ ounce St-Germain

½ ounce Simple Syrup

½ ounce Lemon Juice

Club Soda

Garnish Peychaud’s Bitters

Dry shake all the ingredients (except the club soda and bitters), then fill the shaker with ice and shake until the tin is almost too cold to hold. Pour the club soda into a collins glass, then double strain the cocktail on top. Garnish with drops of Peychaud's Bitters.

Infusion: 1/4 cup of dried lavender per 750ml vodka for 30 minutes.

Eddy & Craig 80s’d out, photo by Jacqui Davis

Strict Rules of Golf

Jump to recipe

By Eddy Colloton

Source: James Bond Classic Photos Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/pin/393502086178567017/?lp=true

Source: James Bond Classic Photos Pinterest
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/393502086178567017/?lp=true

As mentioned in Craig’s recent post revealing our origin story, Team Licence to Drink front-loaded a lot of the research for our cocktail series, which we compiled in a massive spreadsheet (our mutual appreciation for the CSV was an early sign that this project may get out of hand quickly).

We harnessed our google-fu to scrounge every detail we could find about the drinks Bond and his drinking partners consume, the locales they visit, and any other details from the franchise we thought might further our lofty goal of getting toasted in the nerdiest way possible. Fueled by the efforts of Bond nerds who came before us, and quite a few cocktails, we spent an evening on the balcony of Craig’s condo brainstorming booze options for each of the movies. An idea I immediately fell in love with was a Goldfinger cocktail that featured the spirit Kümmel.

I only learned of Kümmel through this archived website that Craig found, which lists all of the drinks 007 imbibes in both Fleming’s novels and the film franchise. Using all of the coordination and focus I could muster, I drunkenly punched the name of the liquor into my keyboard, bravely foraging ahead into the world of unknown search engine results. From the wikipedia entry, I learned that Kümmel was popular at UK golf clubs and believed to improve one’s swing (likely how Fleming, no stranger to a strong drink, learned of the spirit).

There’s a scene in Goldfinger where Bond, in his typical just-barely undercover fashion, leisurely interrogates the villain about smuggled gold and other criminal activities over a round of golf. The scene in the film has a, shall we say, “relaxed” pace, devoting an ungodly amount of screen time to a cheeky gambit by Goldfinger to cheat Bond by replacing his Slazenger 7 golf ball with another of the same type. The sequence stands out in my memory, for better or worse. So when I found a spirit that we could feature to pay homage to Guy Hamilton’s indulgent depiction of an already not very exciting sport, I jumped at it.

Golden+Moon+Kummel.jpg

It wasn’t until much later that I found out we’re experiencing a bit of a Kümmel renaissance in the States, with several bartenders featuring the spirit in cocktails. I had a nice Kümmel cocktail just a few weeks ago at a bar in my new hometown of Washington DC, Room 11, which was delicious. They use the more commonly found Combier distillery variety of the caraway spirit. By chance, Craig and I happened to pick up distillery Golden Moon’s take on Kümmel, and we were all the better for it. One of Golden Moon’s distillers, Robbie Cunningham, used to work at the famed St. Andrew’s golf course. Inspired by his time in golf’s supposed birthplace, Cunningham’s take on Kümmel is a light and botanical version of this spirit oft enjoyed on the Scottish countryside.

We both really enjoyed the first bottle we got and we built our cocktail around it. It was only after we ran out of our first bottle of Golden Moon and could not easily find another that we learned that other Kümmels are often much more bitter and fortified than Golden Moon’s version. The difference between the different Kümmels we tried were so shocking that we were worried we would have to re-design the cocktail to compensate. Craig called around to just about every liquor store in Denver trying to find Golden Moon and almost gave up until we realized we were only a hop, skip, and a jump away from where Golden Moon is based in Golden, Colorado (hence the name).

The drink’s balance was likely so precarious because of our use of black tea. Since the drink was bound to be “golf themed,” I figured I’d go all in and see if I could squeeze it into a boozy Arnold Palmer-inspired beverage. Since golf originates in Scotland, Scotch Whisky seemed like the natural direction for the drink’s base spirit. Dialing all of those influences into a cocktail that didn’t taste like the result of a golf themed mad lib, however, was a bit challenging.

My first approach was essentially to just dump Bank Note Scotch (an aptly name Scotch to use when paying homage to Mr. Goldfinger) and Kümmel into a regular Arnold Palmer. This was, not surprisingly, an undelicious beverage. In general, working with iced tea in a cocktail was flipping hard! No one likes a watery drink. Given that iced tea is essentially just bitter flavored ice water, combining it with alcohol in a way that doesn’t taste like a diluted disappointment is challenging. Our solution was to essentially take a page out of our own book and repeat the success we had with The Stiff Ass Brit by infusing the Scotch with black tea. Steeping ½ tablespoon of Teakoe Iced Black Tea in 125 ml of Bank Note Scotch was like finding all of the corner pieces to the puzzle of the Strict Rules of Golf. The framework was set and we just had to work our way in from there.

Even with the infused Scotch, we wanted to get more tea flavor from the drink, so we experimented with different combinations of a tea simple syrup (basically just regular simple syrup, subbing out water for tea) and a double-strength brew of tea. The sweetness of lemon and sugar very quickly takes over a drink, which may have been why we had to battle back with so much black tea bitterness. The final result is a fairly smooth drinking, but still stiff, cocktail.

Final recipe below:

Recipe: Strict Rules of Golf

Steep ½ tablespoon Teakoe Iced Black tea in 125 ml of Bank Note Scotch for 30 minutes and strain (cheesecloth or coffee filter recommended). Brew concentrated tea for black tea simple syrup by bringing 16 oz of water to boil, remove from heat, steep 3 large tea bags of Teakoe Iced Black tea for 8 minutes, then stir in 16 oz cane sugar, resulting in a 1:1 syrup. Finally, brew double-strength tea using 2 cups of water per bag of the same tea.

Source: Some Fims and Stuff Blog https://somefilmsandstuff.com/2013/09/25/james-bond-retrospective-goldfinger/

Source: Some Fims and Stuff Blog
https://somefilmsandstuff.com/2013/09/25/james-bond-retrospective-goldfinger/

¼ oz lemon

½ oz double-strength tea

½ oz tea simple syrup

½ oz Golden Moon Kümmel

1 ½ oz of Black tea-infused Bank Note Scotch

Angostura Bitters

How It All Began

By Craig Ormiston

Eddy survived his first night making drinks for a big crowd on July 3, 2017. Seen here celebrating with water. Good job, Eddy.

Eddy survived his first night making drinks for a big crowd on July 3, 2017. Seen here celebrating with water. Good job, Eddy.

I wasn’t much of a drinker until after college in 2012 when a few zealous friends convinced me that craft beer is essentially the adult version of Pokémon cards. After three years of going to some of the best breweries in the country, logging over 2,000 beers in Untappd, and tasting many of the best beers on the planet, I felt like I had climbed the Mount Everest of craft beer and needed a new thing. While many friends and bar experiences likely deserve credit for planting the seeds over the years (Nicole, cough cough), I blame my neighborhood cocktail bar in Laguna, Broadway, and the early escapades of friends Matt and Cary of El Tigre Magnifico for throttling my passion for mixing spirits into overdrive. Travel as a consultant in 2015 and 2016 made it prohibitively difficult for me to keep a fridge stocked to cook for friends at my condo, so I started stocking my liquor shelves instead.

Nerds passing in the night

Looking back, it’s crazy that Eddy and I didn’t connect or start a project together much earlier. Back in 2006, he and I lived in freshman dorms across the hall from each other at the University of Southern California. We would cross paths in the halls and at parties, but were in different cinema programs and never really hung out. We must have been closeted James Bond fanatics back then because, had I known, I would have latched onto that common nerdom immediately.

College ended and we did not connect again for another five years until 2015 when a mutual friend alerted me that Eddy had moved to Denver for a summer internship in the conservation department at the Denver Art Museum. I myself had just moved back from Laguna Beach to start consulting for tech companies and he didn’t know anyone in the city yet, so we met up for drinks. I cannot say for sure whether our mutual fandom clicked back then or not, but we met up a few times that summer at various breweries and bars before he moved back to New York in August when his internship had finished. I visited New York the following summer to see friends and hit several cocktail bars including Death & Co. and Attaboy. Eddy and I reconnected then over more drinks with other friends, but otherwise radio silence for both of us after that. He moved to Louisiana for another contract and we missed each other there when I visited New Orleans for Voodoo Fest.

An idea for drinks born over drinks

When Eddy moved back to Denver in March 2017 for a contract at the Denver Art Museum, I had committed to keep my drinking to an accrued quota for the year in a largely successful plot to drink less, be more selective in my consumption, and make more progress on personal projects. Having recently hailed from strong cocktail scenes in New York and New Orleans, Eddy was quick to help me cash in on my quota when I craved visits to various cocktail bars around Denver including Adrift, Williams & Graham, Bar Fausto, White Lies (R.I.P.), and Retrograde. I made drinks for friends back at my condo from time to time, which inspired Eddy to start stocking his own bar.

Through all of this bar hopping, shaking, and stirring, we shared our mutual love for cinema and its various franchises. I had not watched any of the James Bond films for quite some time and felt overdue in enjoying them. With cocktails in hand on the night of May 14, one of us suggested that we should watch a bunch of them together and make two or three drinks to pair with each viewing. We had no intention then of it being a party or anything more than a few friends watching movies while drinking. Thrilled with the idea, we started a spreadsheet to brainstorm what we’d drink. We stumbled on this incredible archived website listing all drinks consumed in both the movies and the books to help us populate our list along with the infographic below.

Contrary to the popular Vesper, it turns out that James Bond doesn’t really drink that many cocktails. The man simply drinks a lot of whiskey, champagne, and wine. Thus, we’d have to design a lot of our own drinks to keep it interesting. While a fun idea, we both played in that spreadsheet for about a week before giving up and succumbing to our busy summers. We’d mention it a few times in June and make a few drinks, but otherwise put the idea to rest for a while.

Fireworks and cocktails

With a condo not far from Coors Field where they put on fireworks shows every year following baseball games around or on July 4th, I had gotten into the habit of having select friends over for a cocktail nights to share the view. This party got more and more ambitious every year to the point where I somehow thought it was a good idea in 2017 to offer an Independence Day-themed menu with 16 drinks, some of my own design and others inspired by concepts in or pulled directly from the Death & Co. book.

1_WQKXvyRvT4kBO3mhSDV4yQ.jpeg

I naively thought that I could handle this menu alone (I was and still am a novice idiot hobbyist bartender with no formal training), but knew that I would have more fun at my own party if I had help. Assuming that Eddy wouldn’t know many people there and might benefit from having a task to keep him involved, I asked if he would be interested in helping out behind bar.

Screenshot_20180726-133335.png

Around 30 people showed up to the party and kept the bar busy. I couldn’t have done it without Eddy and another buddy named Jordan who had real bartending experience. We faked our way through the night and deemed it a huge success. I can’t speak for Eddy, but that night invigorated confidence that we could knock this out of the park more than once per year.

The birth of a cocktail event series

Work and summer activities kept me pretty busy on the road for the next two months. When Eddy and I finally met again for impromptu drinks at Saint Ellie on September 1, we talked seriously about the project again. After a few at the bar, we went back to my place with other friends, made drinks, and continued to brainstorm. From there, things got carried away.

Those who know me well know that I am prone to making things much more complicated.

At the time, I think Eddy thought I was crazy.

We couldn’t just do one or two drinks per movie, we needed to do three! One inspired by or directly pulled from the movie, one inspired by or directly pulled from the book or short story it was adapted from, and one of our own design!

And if we’re going to all of this trouble, why not invite people to join us? Why not make it a thing? Why not make it a monthly event that starts in December 2015 and runs one movie per month until the next James Bond film comes out November 2019? Perfect timing!

Why not make them themed parties? Proper glassware and garnishes? Print menus. Design a poster!

Oh, and what about a movie trailer for each event?

We’ll assemble a theme-appropriate “cocktail hour” playlist and also an after-screening playlist to keep guests entertained!

And while we’re at it, let’s take really good notes and document everything in case we want to blog about it or do something else with it down the road!

Before we knew it, we had a rough schedule of parties spanning two years and started pulling clips to edit a trailer. We knew we would start with Casino Royale in December to launch with a crowd pleaser brilliantly adapted from the first novel and to kick things off with the familiar Vesper, so we started brainstorming other drinks for that event and also the Dr. No event to follow in January. From there, we wanted to time Live and Let Die around mardi gras while also marking the first appearance of each actor in the role (after starting with Craig in Casino Royale in December, move on to Connery in Dr. No for January, Moore in Live and Let Die for February, Dalton in The Living Daylights for March, and finally Brosnan in GoldenEye for April). We finished adding all of the drinks appearing in the movies and novels into our spreadsheet. The project clearly needed a name, so we tossed around a couple ideas and on September 9 finally settled on Licence to Drink (the British spelling, of course). A website URL and an Instagram handle were acquired and we were off to the races.

Eddy and I got together again a few times in September and October to try recipes for the Vesper and Americano. It only took us two sessions before deciding that we couldn’t handle “prep nights” by ourselves lest we get completely hammered after a few recipe attempts and make little to no progress. We needed help tasting our drafts and drinking our booze so that we didn’t do it all by ourselves. On October 27, we had a handful of people over to sip concepts we were working on for both the Casino Royale and Dr. No parties (we even printed a menu for it, which we’ve never bothered to do for prep nights again). We continued refining our roster of drinks through November, sent out invites through email and Facebook, and posted a trailer for the first event.

Our first event got a little crazy.

Our first event got a little crazy.

At last, we kicked off the series on December 2 with Casino Royale. Around 50 people attended, most of whom dressed up in cocktail attire per the theme. While some guests were hoping for a more focused screening format, simply too many people showed up for that to be comfortable in my condo and everyone else seemed content partying with the movie on in the background. We learned a lot about staging the bar that night and many other lessons we look forward to sharing with you on this blog.

Inspired by our first event’s success, we marched forward with our schedule and continue to throw parties. While we have changed the event format a bit and will no longer throw parties on a monthly basis, we’ve mapped out events for all 24 (soon to be 25) James Bond movies and continue to design drinks inspired by all of them. We’re excited to share them with you!

Vesper

By Craig Ormiston

Jump to Cocktail Recipe

Our twist on a Vesper. Photos by Justin Lang.

We knew we wouldn’t make it very far throwing James Bond cocktail parties without first dialing in our specifications for and serving two drinks: the vodka martini and the Vesper.

The drink with which James Bond became the most associated is the vodka martini, due largely to its recurring appearance in the movies (we count it in 16 of the films to date). The catchphrase, “shaken, not stirred,” was not, however, born in association with a vodka martini. Instead, James Bond first asked for a cocktail to be shaken in Chapter 7 of Casino Royale, the first novel by Ian Fleming that debuted the character in 1953:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"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?"

Unlike a standard vodka martini usually characterized by vodka, vermouth, and an olive, this drink uses both gin and vodka, Kina Lillet instead of vermouth, and lemon peel instead of an olive. In the following chapter, Bond names this drink a “Vesper” after the preeminent Bond girl, Vesper Lynd. Perhaps due to how the novel ends, James Bond never orders a Vesper again in the books (although Felix Leiter orders him another version of one in the novel, Diamonds Are Forever, but I digress). Nevertheless, the drink became re-popularized by its reintroduction in the film version of Casino Royale (2006).

We decided to debut our cocktail series with Casino Royale. The book marks the first appearance of the character, it's one of our personal favorite films, and we hoped launching with a more popular modern title would draw a crowd along with a more accessible inaugural theme (cocktail attire). Having made that decision, we endeavored to put our own twist on two classics: the Americano, the first alcoholic beverage the character ever puts to his lips (in Chapter 5 of the novel), and the Vesper, which was invented by Ian Fleming (as presented in the passage quoted above).

In this post, I will share with you our process for landing on our recipe for the Vesper.

The Lillet Conundrum

To begin, we referenced the recipe as it first appears in the novel in Chapter 7:

Lillet is a French fortified Semillon wine flavoured with citrus peels. The name “Kina” derived from the kina-kina tree (also known as the cinchona tree). The bark of tree introduced the bittering ingredient quinine into the spirit. We couldn’t find a bottle of Kina Lillet and quickly learned why: Kina Lillet had been reformulated in 1986 to remove this distinctive bittering ingredient to appeal to a broader palette. Kina Lillet doesn’t exist anymore and was replaced with a much sweeter variant called Lillet Blanc.

In our zealous nerddom, we weren’t going to stand for this. So we purchased a bag of cinchona bark and tried to infuse it back into Lillet Blanc ourselves. The result discolored the final cocktail into an ugly red or, infused less, simply didn’t carry enough bittering distinction to make the infusion worth the effort. I wasn’t ready to give up, but Eddy convinced me to let it go.

Modern menus, bartenders we spoke to, and the illustrious Internet recommended a handful of substitutes for Kina Lillet: Amaro Angeleno, Cocchi Americano, the limited release Réserve Jean De Lillet, Kina L'Avion d'Or, or simply adding Angostura bitters to Lillet Blanc. Finding most substitutes difficult to come by, we grabbed bottles of Lillet Blanc and Cocchi Americano to taste test. We tried both separately and preferred Cocchi on its own. When we haphazardly tried to blend them together, we both had the same reaction: holy shit, yum, blend for the win. Our final version of the cocktail leans into the Cocchi a little bit more than Lillet at a ratio of 2:1 to better balance the sweetness in the drink.

Writing this post now, I am still inspired by the original quest to re-introduce quinine back into the drink, perhaps with quinine powder, by making our own or finding quinine bitters, infusing the bark into a different fortified wine, or by sourcing harder-to-come-by substitute bottles. Nevertheless, the balance we came up with by blending commonly-sold substitutes makes for an extremely delicious and easier-to-source-and-make take on this classic cocktail.

The Gin Conundrum

The novel recipe calls for Gordon's Gin. When the only Gordon’s bottle I found in the liquor store was plastic and substantially cheaper than other gins, I started to have my doubts. We brought several bottles of gin home to do a taste test. Sure enough, we found Gordon’s heinous. Not only that, but further research revealed that Gordon's Gin had also been reformulated in 1992. Alas, we’ll tragically never really know again what the original recipe for the Vesper tasted like.

We taste-tested and tried drafts with a handful of gins including Beefeater and Plymouth, but quickly fell in love with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. While Gordon's Gin in the novel recipe is a London Dry gin, we found the sweeter Old Tom-style gin far more palatable in the cocktail and rolled with it. At this point, we had given up chasing the original recipe and committed to making the tastiest beverage possible. We do not regret these decisions. That said, Hayman’s London Dry Gin is freaking amazing as well and first appeared on our GoldenEye menu in the Stiff-Ass Brit. You can't go wrong trying to make a Vesper with it.

Finding a Balance

The only ingredient we had left to decide on was our vodka. In the novel, Bond says, “if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.” When blind taste-testing grain-based vodkas, Stolichnaya surprisingly won all of our tests. Vodka back in 1953 had alcohol levels trending closer to 50%, so you’d likely achieve a more traditional flavor and bite if you used Stoli’s 100-proof vodka. However, the 100-proof version isn’t readily available in our neighborhood liquor stores, so we opted for the standard 80-proof version. For the measure we use in the drink, the 80-proof tastes great.

Armed with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, a blend of Cocchi and Lillet, and Stolichnaya, we set about balancing the measures of each. The novel recipe calls for a 3 to 1 to half ratio of gin, vodka, and wine. At that ratio, all you taste is gin (though perhaps the vodka might cut through at 100-proof, but you surely still couldn't taste the wine). When we pulled the ratio of gin to vodka down to 2:1, we still found the drink too boozy and accused the vodka. Doubling the wine (at this point, still an equal blend of Cocchi and Lillet) didn’t help and only made the drink taste more like wine. Bringing down the vodka helped, but the drink wasn’t sweet enough. At last, we pulled down the total amount of gin and vodka and added just a little bit more Cocchi (our preferred wine of the two) to sweeten it up. This resulted in our favorite draft:

Recipe: The Vesper

  • 1 ½ ounces Hayman's Old Tom Gin

  • ¾ ounce Stolichnaya Vodka

  • ½ ounce Cocchi Americano

  • ¼ ounce Lillet Blanc

  • Garnish: Lemon Twist

Shake all the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Twist a thin-cut lemon peel over the top and garnish.

The Living Daylights Menu Design

by Eddy Colloton

Jump to menu

Decorations for our party inspired by The Living Daylights

For every party we host, we design a menu so our guests can learn about the cocktails we’ve created. The menus often incorporate aesthetic elements from the movie, either drawing on the color palette of the film, the typeface from the film’s poster, or the graphic design of the opening title sequence. Craig has more graphic design experience than I do, so he took the lead on the first few menus. We had decided on a “Cold War” theme for The Living Daylights party, which sort of just turned into a Soviet Union themed party, so I suggested we borrow from Constructivist graphic design used in posters from the early Soviet era.

Constructivism is a philosophy and art movement particularly popular in Russia in the early 20th century. The style frequently features geometric patterns, primary colors, and techniques like montage. Constructivism permeated all art forms, from painting to theater, and importantly, cinema, in the work of pioneering filmmakers like Dziga Vertov.

From  Man With a Movie Camera  (1929). Source: https://giphy.com/gifs/maudit-maudit-man-with-a-movie-camera-dziga-vertov-egpiEQgsDv4cg

From Man With a Movie Camera (1929). Source: https://giphy.com/gifs/maudit-maudit-man-with-a-movie-camera-dziga-vertov-egpiEQgsDv4cg

However, the most famous remenanet of the art movement is likely Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko’s poster Books!

This image has been “remixed” by many designers, often associating their work with leftist politics. Shepard Fairey is a notable example.

Say Yes! (2008) by Shepard Fairey. Source: https://obeygiant.com/prints/say-yes/

For our menu, we drew inspiration from Aleksandr Rodchenko’s design, the work of El Lissitzky, and Constructivism influence in contemporary design like this image on narongtum’s shutterstock page.

Novyi LEF. Zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv, 8 (1928) by Aleksandr Rodchenko. Source: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/7577?artist_id=4975&locale=en&page=2&sov_referrer=artist

Constructivism Poster with Modern Design by narongtum. Source: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/constructivism-poster-modern-design-396731053

I made a loose copy of narongtum’s image for the rough draft I was working on in Gimp (essentially a free open source version of photoshop). I’m not much of a graphic designer and, aside from editing the occasional photo, I don’t have a need for Photoshop that would justify the cost. If you’re also in that category, Gimp is a good option.

To emulate the use of Cyrillic text that was so prominent in these posters, I wanted a font that was “Cyrillic-y,” but not so much so that it would be hard to read. I didn’t want to challenge anyone’s cryptography skills, especially after they had a few drinks in them. Luckily, the free font website dafont had Cyrillic fonts in spades. I ended up using a mix of Kremlin and Soviet for my first draft of the poster:

I sent this over to Craig and he took the idea and ran with it. Like I said, I’m not much of a designer, so at minimum Craig was going to have to put some polish on my draft. He ended up doing a lot more than that. Aside from making the whole thing a lot more legible, he added this weathered quality that I really liked and which fits the feeling of the war-weary Soviets in The Living Daylights.

The Living Daylights Menu

The themes of our parties often allow us to bring in our interests from outside of the franchise, and muddle them together with a Bond movie...like mint in a mojito (sorry, couldn’t resist). Getting to explore my interest in Constructivism was a cool excuse to explore an art movement I had heard of, but didn’t know too much about. My girlfriend, Lauren, lived in Russia for several years and I got to learn a lot from her during the process of designing this menu. She also helped us decorate for the party using some of the reproductions of Soviet propaganda posters she had purchased while she was living in St. Petersburg. You can see all of our photos from that night, as well as the other content we created for the party, on our parties page.

Me and Lauren in the photo booth she designed

Dr. No Party Playlist

by Eddy Colloton

Jump to playlists

Eddy & Craig at our Dr. No party

Eddy & Craig at our Dr. No party

I had a blast making the playlists for our first party, Casino Royale, but at the time I wasn’t thinking of it as anything but a practicality. Parties have music in the background, right? Craig had suggested playing the soundtrack to the movie, but I was concerned about dynamics, and the more intense parts of the score. Most people don’t like it when their cocktail parties are scored like car chases.

That being said, there are a lot of really cool parts to the David Arnold composed score, which both feel very Bond and evoke the mood we were hoping to create for our Casino Royale party, so I built out a playlist around some of my favorite tracks. I started with some favorites of mine, Tony Allen, Mingus, and Yesterday's New Quintet, and then sort of just poked around Spotify playlists for tracks that, to me, had a similar “classy jazz to drink to” vibe. We screen the movie we’re paying homage to at every party, so I made a more mellow “pre-movie” playlist, and then tried to up the energy a little for the “post-movie” playlist.

When the second party rolled around for Dr. No, everything was starting to feel a bit more deliberate. Admittedly, Craig and I had discussed a certain level of consistency when we were hatching this scheme. For instance, we were always sure each party had to have a trailer. But things like the party attire Pinterest inspiration board and the Spotify playlists developed a bit more organically. Craig had been stoked on the Casino Royale playlists and encouraged me to run with the idea. The theme for Dr. No could not have been a better fit for my music taste, so I was all over it.

After the somewhat disastrous first attempt to adapt Ian Fleming’s literary work, apparently someone thought it would be a great idea to give this incredibly racist English author another shot. Dr. No was released in 1962. The film, like the novel, is set in Jamaica.

The early 60s represent a seminal moment in Jamaican music history. The Studio One record label—shepherding artists like the Skatalites, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Toots & the Maytals, and many others—released its first records in 1963. Byron Lee, who is heavily featured on the Dr. No soundtrack, introduced the electric bass to Jamaica just a few years prior, cementing the popularity of the then-burgeoning ska sound. Lee performed at the 1964 World’s Fair, an early indicator of music becoming the island nation’s chief export. Ten years later, Marley and the Wailers would sign with CBS records, and Jamaican reggae would be poised to take over the world. The 1960s Jamaican sound could be considered a prelude to that iconic moment in music, and Dr. No serves as time capsule of the burgeoning phenomenon.

Dr. No is released amidst a frenzy of American obsession with all things tropical, demonstrated through the travelogue style of the film and the popular music of the day. From surf rock to Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore, music lovers couldn’t get enough of beaches, sunshine and polka dot bikinis. One of the things I love about the Bond franchise are the movies’ ability to represent the culture of the day. Intentional or not, Bond movies often end up being about the era they were released in, just as much as they are about villains, espionage, and fancy suits. Many of the playlists I create for our parties are entirely made up of songs that were featured on the Billboard top 100 the year the movie was released (like this one for Live and Let Die, 1973).

Connery "relaxing" on the set of Dr. No. Found at  the007dossier.com

Connery "relaxing" on the set of Dr. No. Found at the007dossier.com

These two simultaneous cultural events offered more than enough inspiration for my pre-movie playlist Dr. Yeeyah. The playlist ended up becoming a mix of early 60s pop music that captured the vacation fervor of the era with ska and proto-reggae hits from Jamaica. That playlist, like the Casino Royale pre-movie playlist, borrowed tracks from the film’s soundtrack. The Byron Lee tracks on the playlist worked particularly well for this playlist and theme, but since then the Bond movie scores haven’t jived as well with our party themes (however, our 80s themed A View To a Kill Party is coming up and there will definitely be some Duran Duran on that playlist).

As with Casino Royale, I wanted the post-party playlist to be more upbeat and energetic. For Dr. No, I wanted to draw from the diaspora of Caribbean music in contemporary Western music genres. I've included some obvious choices on the playlist like Nas’ collaboration with Damien Marley and The Specials’ dub classic Ghost Town, but I also wanted some artists our guests might not have heard before, like “techno-dub” duo Rhythm & Sound or UK grime artist Flowdan. Making that playlists, Dr. Nope, also helped me find out about a new artist, Filastine, a music and video act formed by the same guy who started the Infernal Noise Brigade back in the late 90s.

I now make a pre-movie playlist and a post-movie playlist for every party. It's become a fun way to explore some of the more social aspects of Spotify I wouldn't use otherwise, like the public playlists and genre filters. For me creating playlists for the parties functions as a sort of "prompt," basically an excuse to find new music, and a deadline to motivate me. That's true for a lot of Licence to Drink, it's just parameters we've invented to be creative within. The concept helps us get the ball rolling and then the parties keep us accountable.

All of the playlists I've made for the LtD parties can be found on our parties page, along with all of the other content we create. I plan to do more deep dives into particular playlists on the blog, so let me know if there's anything you'd like to hear more about. 


Playlists: Dr. No

Stiff-Ass Brit

by Eddy Colloton

Jump to cocktail recipe

Two of the cocktails I’m most proud of creating so far were both designed for our GoldenEye party in April. To be honest, my memory of how this all shook out is a bit fuzzy (likely due to the amount of liquor imbibed during our brainstorming sessions). I had watched Craig infuse liquors for our previous parties, notably for Underneath the Mango Tree, which ended up using both akee-infused rum and cocoa nib infused banana liqueur. I tried an orange peel infusion for our take on an Old Fashioned for the Live and Let Die party, but we ended up rejecting that idea (whiskey infusions are hard because whiskey tastes really good...and in something like an Old Fashioned, people want that taste...don’t fix what’s not broken).

My sister used to live in London, and she once brought me a sort of “sampler pack” of Fortnum & Mason loose leaf teas for Christmas. F & M is an over 300 year old company, famous for creating teas for the royal family (they're super English). Not being a big tea drinker, I would occasionally make a “cuppa” but, to be honest, these ornately packaged tins were sort of languishing on my kitchen counter for awhile. I noticed them one day and thought, “that tea is probably the most English thing in my apartment.” We were currently working on our The Living Daylights party, which we had initially intended to be a Russian-themed all-vodka extravaganza, so I thought I would try infusing some of the vodka I had purchased for that party with some of this incredibly British tea. I texted Craig about the idea and he sent me some pictures from the Death & Co book with tea infusion recipes. I googled some tea infusion recipes and I am really glad we sought inspiration from the D & C recipes instead. Some tea infusion recipes suggest leaving tea in booze overnight! Don’t bother. I have always done something like a half hour to an hour, more than enough.

I ended up trying Earl Grey tea with some Peach Street Vodka and Smoky Earl Grey with Rittenhouse Rye. I steeped each for about an hour with around a tablespoon of tea per 150-250 mL of booze. I loved the result and I don’t even like tea!

I was doing my homework, re-watching GoldenEye for the gazillionth time, this time with an eye out for some reference to tea or England that I could cop for a drink title. I remember considering naming the work in progress cocktail after Dame Judy Dench, or maybe calling it “For England James.” But then a line jumped out at me: when Bond first meets CIA Agent Wade (a character I loved as a kid… now, not so much), Wade calls him a “Stiff-Ass Brit.” After Wade eschews a spy film trope by dismissing their coded salutations, Bond sticks his Walther in the guy's ribs and insists he verify his identity. Once Bond is satisfied that Wade is who he says he is, Bond self-applies the insult, and introduces himself as “James Bond, Stiff-Ass Brit.”

Boom. Cocktail name.

My first attempts at making cocktails with these teas were pretty successful. A lot of the things that taste good in tea also taste good in booze. The tea isn’t so overpowering that the taste of the spirit disappears, so traditionally good combinations still hold up. Plus, I had recently purchased some Dolin Blanc, which I now love, and figured that would work very well with vodka (it does). The first two iterations of the Stiff-Ass Brit were a bit different from how it ended up:

Whiskey version

  • 2 oz Smoky Earl Grey Tea Whiskey
  • 1/4 oz Goldschläger

Yeah, Goldschläger. Look, it’s for a gold themed party, it has gold in it. People like cinnamon in their black tea. I figured, why not? We didn’t use it. Mostly because that shit taste awful.

Vodka version

  • 2 oz Earl Grey infused Vodka
  • 1 oz Dolin Blanc

I also tried this with delicious Maurin White, which I buy at my local wine shop Baker Wine & Spirits, but the Maurin has so much going on already that it doesn’t pair as well with the tea flavor compared to the simplicity of the Dolin Blanc.

I believe we tried both of these at one of our Prep Nights (the party before the partyTM), and the vodka one was not surprisingly the crowd favorite. I remember Craig asking me to try it with Hayman's London Dry Gin since that would make the cocktail even more English. I initially opposed this idea, because I liked the simplicity of the vodka. But when we eventually tried the infusion with gin, it was way better.

I have always wanted this cocktail to be super simple, something that Craig strongly resisted. We tried a lot of different things with the gin version, adding Leopold Bros Fernet at one point, several different variations of bitters including Dram Lavender Lemon Balm, but ultimately we ended up just adding a bit of honey simple syrup to finish it off. While I was dragged kicking and screaming at most every point, I’m glad Craig continued to push me to add something else to this cocktail. I would have settled at the vodka incarnation of this drink and it would have suffered for it. You don’t know how to make the best of a cocktail idea until you’ve tried all the options (preferably not in one sitting).

The final recipe is as follows:

Recipe: Stiff-Ass Brit

Steep Fortnum and Mason Earl Grey tea in Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin for approximately 40 minutes, 1 tablespoon per 250 mL.
Make honey simple syrup by combining equal parts honey and hot water and shake vigorously till mixed thoroughly.

  • 1 ½ oz Earl Grey Infused Gin
  • ½ oz Dolin Blanc Vermouth
  • ¼ oz Honey Simple Syrup

Stir, strain, and serve with expressed orange peel garnish. For an extra touch of “GoldenEye,” we added a dash of edible glitter to this drink.

Welcome to Licence to Drink!

Why hello there! Welcome to licencetodrink.com. Here, you'll be able to follow along with our tasty project, catch posts about the custom cocktails we create inspired by a James Bond movie or novel, and learn about  the parties we throw. Cheers!

- Eddy & Craig

Eddy and Craig at our Living Daylights party, with  "Cold War" themed attire. 

Eddy and Craig at our Living Daylights party, with  "Cold War" themed attire.