The Vesper first appeared in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Casino Royal. In the book, 007 skips his usual Vodka Martini and instead orders “three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.” He dubbed the strong drink the Vesper, after his one true love, Vesper Lynd. Much like the femme fatale, Kina Lillet met an untimely end in 1986, but made with Cocchi Americano instead, the Martini variation is still a modern masterpiece—and proof that you don’t have to choose between vodka and gin.
But you do have to choose which vodka and which gin to use in your Vesper. And with hundreds of gins and vodkas on the market, that choice can seem daunting. Don’t fret—we tasted our way through the liquor store and came up with nine (or, more appropriately, 009) of the best vodka-gin pairings. Whether you like your Vesper clean and crisp, savory and rich, or sweet and floral, here are the best gin and vodka combinations for your Vesper.
For the Casino Royale Vesper
Gin: Gordon’s Gin (preferably the 94.6-proof exported version)
Why It Works: In Casino Royale, Bond orders the original Vesper with Gordon’s gin, a classic, juniper-heavy London Dry gin. Though he doesn’t call his vodka, we think Stolichnaya, which was introduced internationally the same year Casino Royale was published, is the perfect pairing. Distilled from wheat and rye, Stolichnaya has a twang of sweetness and creaminess, that complements the fruitiness in Cocchi Americano and tempers the gin’s bright juniper qualities. When shaken to a frosty temperature, with an icy layer adrift on the surface and a long twine of lemon peel, this is a Vesper worthy of 007 himself.
For an Artisanal Vesper
Gin: New York Distilling Co. Dorothy Parker Gin
Vodka: Industry City Standard Vodka
Why It Works: Made in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Dorothy Parker Gin is named after the legendary member of the Algonquin Round Table—who was famous for both her writings and Martini drinking. Unlike any other gin on the market today, this spirit is bright and tropical, with notes of hibiscus flower and a tart sweetness akin to passion fruit. On the finish, the gin has an undercurrent of earth and minerality and an intense hit of juniper. Industry City Standard Vodka—also from Brooklyn—is distilled from beet sugar. With flavors of wet rock, soil, and a soft, vegetal sweetness in the finish, it pairs with the Dorothy Parker to create a powerhouse of a cocktail.
For a Clean, Minimalist Vesper
Gin: Bombay London Dry Gin
Vodka: Smirnoff Vodka
Why It Works: Bombay London Dry gin is an underrated spirit, hidden in the shadow of its more widely-known sibling, Bombay Sapphire. Based on a 1761 recipe, this gin is polished, with bright flavors of lemon zest, juniper, fresh pine and a touch of heat in the finish. When paired with Smirnoff, the prefered vodka of the New York Times due to its clean, classic vodka flavors, the two spirits harmonize in their simplicity. This Vesper is the cocktail equivalent of an Eames chair.
For a Brawny Vesper
Gin: Ransom Old Tom Oregon Gin
Vodka: Woody Creek Colorado Vodka
Why It Works: Developed in collaboration with cocktail historian and author David Wondrich, Ransom’s Old Tom is a recreation of pre-Prohibition gins. With notes of coriander, cardamom and bright citrus undertones, it calls for an equally rich vodka. Enter Woodsy Creek potato vodka, which is distilled just once so it retains those sweet, starchy potato flavors, along with a soft, velvety texture. When mixed together, the two spirits create a mouth-coating cocktail with a buttery, earthy depth.
For a Savory Vesper
Gin: Old Raj Gin
Vodka: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
Why It Works: Infused with saffron, Old Raj Gin is a spicy, savory expression, and at 110-proof the spirit is perfect for mixing. Shaken with the easily quaffable, clean, crisp Tito’s vodka, Old Raj lends heat, spice, and an almondy creaminess to a Vesper. Swap out Cocchi Americano for silky Lillet Blanc, throw in a dash of smoked salt water, and you’ll have a Vesper that tastes like baked creamed corn with saffron.
For a Floral Vesper
Gin: Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin
Vodka: Square One Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka
Why It Works: This Vesper is only for the flower-obsessed, the incense burners and the perfume addicts. Nolet’s gin has a strong taste of dried flowers and raspberries, with a hint of vanilla—it’s not your typical gin, that’s for sure. Combined with Square One Cucumber vodka, which has a mild melon flavor, this Vesper packs an abundance of botanicals. Use Dolin Blanc vermouth in place of Cocchi and add two hefty dashes of Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Teapot bitters to really make a garden-to-glass cocktail.
For a Vesper Even Gin-Haters Will Love
Gin: Hendrick’s Gin
Vodka: Reyka Vodka
Why It Works: There is no gin that tastes quite like Hendrick’s. And that is precisely why self-proclaimed gin-haters love the spirit. Infused with cucumber and rose, this gin lacks any of the piney-bite that typically defines the spirit. When paired with an extremely light, borderline transparent-tasting vodka like Reyka, this cocktail becomes defined by the gin’s bright cucumber flavor. Add a dash of quinine-less Lillet Blanc for its sweetness (and lightness) and this Vesper becomes as dangerous as a tank full of sharks with lasers thanks to its gulpability.
For a Vesper Even Vodka-Haters Will Love
Gin: Plymouth Gin
Vodka: Zirkova One Vodka
Why It Works: Zirkova One sounds like the name of a vodka that only a Bond villain would drink—and, considering how easy it goes down, it’s just as deadly as any of Bond’s notorious foes. Made in Cherkasy, Ukraine, Zirkova is minimal, clean and, unlike many vodkas, actually flavorful. Luxuriously smooth on the palate, Zirkova One has subtle notes of birch, minerals and almond. Paired with Plymouth gin, a spirit known for its softness and lack of overwhelming juniper notes, the vodka’s unique flavors are given room to shine. With a touch of Salers aperitif in lieu of Cocchi, the cocktail gains a hint of lemon and fresh fennel frond flavor. It’s much, much more than your typical Vodka Martini.
For a Vesper That Could Kill Even Bond Himself
Gin: Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
Vodka: Devil Springs 151 Proof Vodka
Why It Works: How is it that James Bond always manages to evade Death? It’s always the Bond girl that suffers the villain's rath and dies in the end. But if the antagonist were to sneakily pass the titular hero this cocktail instead of his usual Martini, 007 would be down for the count. At 114 proof, Plymouth Navy Strength gin packs a serious punch but hides its heat with flavors of lemon and juniper, while Tempus Fugit’s Kina l'Avion d'Or Quinquina (as a substitute for Cocchi) has a bitter depth that’s dangerously good at masking Devil Spring’s whopping 151 proof. Smooth for its strength, this Vesper is to die for.