The Cauldron is one of our favorite themed locations, but except during Halloween season, it's not often we get down to the haunted hangout in Buena Park. Fortunately, circumstances have been placing us in the vicinity recently, and we've become something of a regular, giving us a chance to sample some spirited concoctions that did not make it into the review we posted last October, including the New Moon Martini and the Vesper Martini. The former is a seasonal special, currently available; the latter is a variation on the famous drink James Bond orders in Ian Fleming's first 007 novel, Casino Royale.
Made with Black Vodka and Yellow Chartreuse, the New Moon Martini has a licorice-like flavor reminiscent of Absinthe. It's sweet - not really what we expect from a martini - but we found it a little more enjoyable than actual absinthe drinks we've had.
More interesting is the Vesper Martini, which is a relatively recent addition to the Cauldron’s drink menu. In fact, we were the ones who raised the subject of Bond's signature drink during our first visit to the establishment. However, the Cauldron's Vesper Martini is not quite the Martini Bond described and named after the character Vesper Lynd.
Bond's Vesper Lynd Martini is three parts Gordon's gin, one part vodka, one-half part what was then called Kinet Lillet (now Lillet Blanc). Shaken over ice, the Vesper Lynd is served with a long slice of lemon peel.
The Cauldron's Vesper Martini uses Nolet's Gin instead of Gordon's. Stirred instead of shaken, it is served with an onion. To our surprise, it's actually a match for the original; in fact, we would be hard pressed to distinguish between the two if we were sampling them blind-folded.
During our side by side taste test, the difference resulting from the brand names of gin were negligible. At first sip, the most obvious distinction was the citrus aroma from the lemon peel in the original Vesper Lynd. Also, the fact that it was shaken resulted in a colder temperature and left the liquid looking slightly effervescent.
However, as we neared the bottom of the glasses, the distinctions became clearer. Particularly, the onion at the bottom of the Cauldron's Vesper Martini infused with drink with its own flavor, adding a bit more of a tingle on the tongue. And, if one is so inclined, eat the onion after the drink is finished - that may sound unappetizing, but it tastes quite good.
In the end, Bond's Vesper Lynd Martini may be the better gateway drink. The lower temperature mutes the impact of the alcohol, and the lemon peel adds a freshness that may appeal to sissy drinkers unaccustomed to the impact of a serious martini.
Nevertheless, the Cauldron's Vesper Martini is no mere knockoff. In our nerdy little hearts, we were expecting it to be the equivalent of bad movie remake - like the original but not as good. Instead, it turned out to be excellent in its own right. We'll continue to make the original version at home, but from now on we'll order the new version at the Cauldron.
One final note: knocking back two martinis in tandem really brings the The Cauldron's haunted atmosphere in ways we had never fully appreciated before.