Drinking like James Bond4 min read . Updated: 29 May 2015, 09:49 AM IST
Does James Bond's choice of drinks reflect that of the modern-day spy? And what does a modern-day spy drink anyway?
There is no man I know who doesn’t want to share a drink with agent 007, the British secret service agent who drinks as smooth as he talks. James Bond has inspired generations after generations of men with his choice of tuxedos, gadgets, cars, women and his class and intelligence. No wonder then that Bond is one of the few iconic fictional characters who has stood the test of time, one who was as relevant 50 years ago as he is today.
One more thing that we have come to know about Bond over the years is that his choice of drinks is varied and it reflects his moods and the surroundings. But does it also reflect the choice of the modern-day spy? And what does a modern-day spy drink anyway?
The world of James Bond is the one set up in the mind of Ian Fleming, the author of the 007 series of spy novels starting with Casino Royale in 1953. Himself a man of many a mystery, Fleming was an ultimate Englishman. Born in Mayfair, London’s most sought-after district, and educated at the illustrious Eton College on the banks of the river Thames near Windsor, he built up friendship there with future influencers and members of the British Parliament, many of whom are groomed at Eton to this day.
Between his early life in British naval intelligence and some time spent at Westminster, there was enough fodder to shape many of the narratives of his future spy novels. And despite his elite schooling and adventures in the highest ranks of the British defence, it was Fleming’s time drinking that really helped him construct the characters that have gone on to become some of the most iconic in both literature and cinema.
London is full of interesting and unusual places to find a drink, and one of the very best places to have such an experience is the Duke’s Hotel at St. James’s. Hidden down a tiny street just off the main road to Knightsbridge, Duke’s Hotel is where Ian Fleming would reputedly sit, a gin martini in hand, listening quietly to fellow drinkers—a mix of active spies, foreign office workers and other government officials. As they went on discussing their business, Fleming would sip on his drink and listen, with many of the stories heard over his shoulder at this bar making for the narrative, twists and turns in his future books.
In fact, it was in one of Fleming’s books, Casino Royale, where Bond orders what would become a standard on many drinks menus (and a must order at the Duke’s Bar)—the vesper.
A twist on a classic martini (which is usually three parts gin to one part dry vermouth, garnished with an olive or citrus fruit zest), the vesper has one extra part of vodka. The contents are then shaken, not stirred (note Bond’s famous catchphrase here) and served very cold in a champagne coupe glass.
In the original recipe, Bond calls for Gordon’s gin. This is a good choice, but with so many amazing new gins on the market these days (back in those days, it would have been either Gordon’s or Beefeater), I’d personally choose one from the Tanqueray range. As for vodka, Bond doesn’t have a preference. Take my advice though and go for Grey Goose. You won’t regret it.
Modern times have seen Bond move from vespers to straight martinis, through to Heineken beer and, most recently, an incredibly rare bottle of 1962 single-malt Scotch whiskey from The Macallan distillery was quoted in Skyfall as the spy’s top tipple. Sales of the brand naturally rocketed. Who doesn’t want to be seen to be drinking the same thing as Bond?
For the real, all-in spy experience, however, you’d need to sneak into one of London’s exclusive clubs located at the Mall, just off Trafalgar Square. Venues such as the Travellers Club and Reform Club have been their hangouts in the past. But with the art of the spy being one of total anonymity, who really knows where he is drinking today, or indeed what resides in his glass. No doubt it will be something truly international and truly classy.
The Sunset Martini
I’m a huge fan of the way that a daiquiri, traditionally made with fresh lime juice, rum and sugar syrup, can be adapted around any type of fruit. All over the world, you’ll see cocktail menus full of alternatives, from strawberry to banana. But the classic martini remains mostly untouched—until now!
Following the footsteps of Bond (well, Ian Fleming, really), I’ve developed my own twist on the martini that, I think, takes it up to another level of luxury.
My version uses a pinch of saffron, to add both a beautiful sunset colour and a twist of spice to the flavour.
Simply take a mixing glass filled with ice and add two dashes of Angostura bitters, one part dry vermouth (Martini Extra Dry is good for this), three parts Gordon’s gin and a small pinch of saffron.
Stir down and strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with another pinch of saffron gently floating on top and voila, you have the Sunset Martini—the perfect sundowner.
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant. He also runs the website WorldsBestSpirits.com and tweets on @joeldram