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.


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.


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!


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.