Writer and Bond aficionado Owen Williams re-read every James Bond novel this year and extracted all the drinking material for the Alderman on the way. The resulting dossier was handed over in October 2015—using an implausible and superannuated hi-tech gadget involving microfiche, naturally—and the Alderman’s editors immediately set to work on analysing the Bond Files.
Over the coming months the results will be published in a series of articles, each introduced by Owen with an overview of the book(s)/film(s) concerned. Bond’s drinks and drink-talk will be reported and analysed, and some advice on drinking like Bond in the early twenty-first century will be passed on. To do this, we have identified the essential principles behind drinking like Bond.
How Bond drinks
He may not always live up to it, but Bond has a distinctive drinking style. It’s not just about drinking well and showing off—any fool can drink Dom Pérignon and like it—and it certainly isn’t all about throwing money around. This isn’t a matter of outspending your fellow drinkers, it’s a matter of out-knowing and out-swaggering them. We’ve identified some of Bond’s drinking principles. They may be somewhat idealised, but they’re what make “shaken, not stirred” characteristically Bondian.
- Be specific. Go into detail. This applies to cocktail ingredients, cocktail mixing methodology, wine (what year, damn you?) and everything else.
- Be shrewd, eclectic and distinctive. You know the underrated Champagne or the neglected vintage; you know that, against conventional wisdom, that cocktail should be shaken, not stirred. Be knowledgeable but be individual.
- Be appropriate. Know what drink fits an occasion or a food, and drink it in the manner that befits it.
- Be sure to choose something discussable. Select drinks that have some notable feature that can be talked about.
- Be fluent but understated. Talk a good game, express your opinions as casual statements of fact, share just enough effortless learning and be assured enough to very occasionally accept expert advice. Don’t be afraid to be a prick, but try to be an entertaining prick, and hint that you may know that you’re being prickish, that it’s all rather a joke to you; keep them guessing.
- Don’t be a bore, a collector or a connoisseur; you’re a drinker. Note: Bond wasn’t a proto-hipster, either.
While the principles may be timeless, some of Bond’s choices have become rather dated—in the age of the great gin boom asking for Gordon’s, say, might seem pitifully gauche to some—and we’ve tried to adapt a few of them when looking at his drinks in the series. Nonetheless, there is much that can be learned from looking at Bond’s drinking and, above all, his style of drinking. In addition to the historical interest, of course—what were people drinking in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s?
First in the series is Casino Royale, source of “shaken, not stirred”, the Vesper cocktail and an awful lot of Champagne advice.
Opening the Bond files. Casino Royale (1953)
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” So opens Ian Fleming’s first adventure for James Bond, agent 007. More outlandish plotlines and villains would follow, but here, at the beginning, we don’t stray far from that casino in Royale-les-Eaux, and the major set-piece is an exhaustively detailed game of baccarat. Bond’s mission is to disgrace the SMERSH agent Le Chiffre, ruining him at the card table to blow a crippling hole in the Soviet agency’s finances. But it turns out, of course, that Le Chiffre is more dangerous than anticipated. Preferring to work alone, Bond is irritated to be paired with the enigmatic agent Vesper Lynd, but ends up liking her enough—for a time, at least—to name his signature cocktail for her.
Casino Royale sees Bond—and Fleming—at his most fastidious and pernickety about what he eats and drinks. As the books progress, and Fleming perhaps tires of the game, the menus and drink-specifics become less important. Fleming eventually states explicitly that Bond is not a gourmet; he simply plays at being one when he’s on a mission to alleviate the boredom of travel. His menu is far less extravagant at home when his “treasured” housekeeper May is cooking for him (and note the simple bacon and eggs in the casino late on). Nevertheless, Casino Royale sets a template…
What Bond drank and said about drink in Casino Royale
- Americano cocktail and a Bacardi rum for Vesper.
- “Straight whisky ‘on the rocks’” accompanied by pâté de foie gras and cold langouste with thick pieces of hot toast.
- [To barman:] “A dry martini … in a deep champagne goblet … 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 … If you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.”
- [To Felix Leiter:] “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.” [Bond names it the Vesper soon afterwards.]
- “A small carafe of vodka, very cold.”
- “I would prefer to drink Champagne with you [Vesper] tonight. It is a cheerful wine and it suits the occasion—I hope.” [Bond orders the Taittinger 1945, but the sommelier talks him into the Blanc de Blancs Brut 1943.] “That is not a well-known brand,” Bond explained to his companion, “but it is probably the finest Champagne in the world.” He then “grinned suddenly at the touch of pretension in his remark”. [Bond eats caviar with grated egg and “plenty of toast”—“The trouble always is not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it”—followed by “a very small tournedos, underdone, with sauce Béarnaise and a Coeur d’artichaut,” and then “half an avocado pear with a little French dressing”.]
- Half a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
- A bottle of “Champagne”.
- A bottle of Veuve Clicquot with scrambled eggs and bacon.
- Champagne. With “a delicious home-made liver pâté … crisp French bread and… deep yellow butter set in chips of ice”; then lobster, and finally “fraises des bois” with “thick cream”.
Analysing the Bond Files
Because of Casino Royale‘s abundance of drinking riches, and its canonical role is establishing Bond’s drinking character, we have split the analysis over two articles: Spirits and cocktails and Champagne and swagger. Click to read how to drink like Bond.
Also look out for Owen Williams’s Bond articles for Empire film magazine—here’s “James Bond from page to screen” and “James Bond’s literary afterlife” to start with. Owen compiled the Bond Files for Alderman Lushington.
Owen Williams, Andy Hamilton and Paul Fishman (Leeds and Bristol, October 2015)
Owen is a journalist specialising in film. He’s a regular contributor to Empire and Fangoria, and his work has also been published in The Guardian, Rue Morgue, GamesTM, All About History and various places elsewhere. He lives in Yorkshire with an academic and a cat. He mostly writes for print, but collects his haphazard online articles here. Twitter—@FlexibleHead.
Andy had his first alcoholic drink at eight and has never looked back. He now works as a freelance drunkard and does many booze related things to earn a crust. These include taking people out into the woods and teaching them how to make booze from wild plants, writing about booze in his books, the bestselling Booze for Free, his in-depth treatise on beer, Brewing Britain, and more recently the book he is working on, Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails. He often writes for the Telegraph and occasionally for the Guardian. He’s also been know to help various establishments design their own signature drinks. Andy is known as one of the politest people in the drinks industry, he never swears and is always convivial and never an incompressible drunk. Honest. And he really is the editor at large for Alderman Lushington.