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Licence to swill: how to drink like James Bond

Licence to swill: how to drink like James Bond

The heroes and villains from Ian Fleming’s series infuse a new book of cocktails

The heroes and villains from Ian Fleming’s series infuse a new book of cocktails

Jason Palmer | November 7th 2018

In “Casino Royale”, the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond books, James Bond meets Felix Leiter, a CIA operative, in the casino bar. After ordering Leiter’s scotch, Bond “looked carefully at the barman. ‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. 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.” The following night, Bond named the martini Vesper, after the woman he had just met and would soon love.

It’s an early example of the attention to detail and undiluted glamour that gave Fleming’s books their cinematic feel. The international intrigue speaks for itself: how could being a dapper, globetrotting spy fail to excite? It’s the texture that sets the books apart from the grittier spy novels of the post-war era. And cocktails were key to Bond’s image – and his allure.

Drink another day: Ian Fleming, 1962, by Cecil Beaton

Readers couldn’t all be pistol-toting, girl-winning men of mystery but they could stomach a strong drink. Bond was a man who knew exactly which brands he wanted, to the point of specifying Perrier as his preferred sparkling water. This was the kind of indulgence that a readership still in the grip of post-war austerity could enjoy – if in moderation. Then again, Bond himself was moderate, in this sense anyway, claiming to limit himself to “one drink before dinner” – mind you, one “large and very strong and very cold and very well-made” drink. 

Not all of the concoctions in “Shaken”, a new book of Bond-inspired cocktails, are very strong. But what distinguishes this book is the way that these recipes evoke the essence of the heroes and villains of Bond-land. Goldfinger is as extravagant as the gold-leaf cocktail named after it; Mr Big is as full of black magic and Caribbean spice as the villain of “Live and Let Die”. 

The recipes were invented by a rock-star trio of mixologists: Edmund Weil (a distant relative of Fleming), Mia Johansson and Bobby Hiddleston, who together run Swift, a suitably louche bar in Soho in London. Though drinks and drinking appear often in the Bond books (champagne, as the introduction points out, was mentioned 121 times in the 14 Bond books), only one recipe is spelled out: the Vesper Martini. The trio behind “Shaken” worked out accurate measures for ten more classic cocktails mentioned in the series, and invented 40 new drinks with names inspired by the books. There’s the Fugu Poison, based on a good slug of Death’s Door gin and named after the deadly toxin (occurring naturally in puffer fish) with which Rosa Klebb nearly killed Bond at the end of “From Russia With Love”. There’s the Scaramanga, made with Johnnie Label Gold Label Reserve, Martini Bianco, melon liqueur, Fernet Branca (Bond’s go-to hangover cure) and a strip of lemon peel – a clear nod to the equally smooth, triple-nippled Man with the Golden Gun. But the book is more than a list of instructions – it’s full of quotes from the books and notes on the inspiration behind each new cocktail. 

“Shaken” comes in five sections: straight up, on the rocks, tall, fizzy and exotic. In the interests of research (obviously) I sampled one from each:

 

The Vesper

The funny thing about this drink is that when Fleming tried it, long after writing about it, he pronounced it “horrible”. It’s not. The problem is that the Kina Lillet specified was discontinued in the 1980s. Enter the Americano, an aromatised wine like vermouth, but flavoured principally with gentian root instead of wormwood. The version made by Cocchi, an Italian winemaker, is widely acclaimed as the best alternative to bygone Kina. Its balance belies its booziness. Have too many, and say your evening prayers.

60ml Ian Fleming gin (or other premium gin)
20ml Russian vodka
2 tsp Cocchi Americano

Measure the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and top up with ice to the brim. Shake then strain into a frosted Martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. Drink very cold.

 

Trueblood

Mary Trueblood was shot by assassins working for Dr No as she was radioing London Secret Service HQ to alert them about her boss’s disappearance (he had also been killed by No’s men). The character was named after Una Trueblood, Fleming’s secretary at the Sunday Times. The namesake cocktail plays on the colour associated with her name; it’s a somewhat elaborate take on the rich-red Boulevardier (itself a bourbon-for-gin swap in a Negroni). The recipe cleverly offsets the flavours from the Japanese whisky, giving half the Campari component over to crème de cassis and, unusually, adding a pinch of salt. A richness not overpowered by the bitterness. 

40ml Nikka Whisky from the Barrel (or other Japanese whisky)
2 tsp Campari
2 tsp crème de cassis
25ml Martini Reserva Speciale (or other red vermouth)
pinch of salt

Measure the ingredients into a frosted mixing glass and top up with ice. Stir until very cold, then strain into a frosted Old Fashioned glass over large ice cubes. Garnish with two fresh cherries.

 

Moneypenny 

It’s thought that Una Trueblood also inspired the character Miss Moneypenny, M’s dependable secretary who, in turn, inspires this “quintessentially English” concoction. The rose liqueur is key in that notion and in the drink, lending a light, floral note to the cool blend of gin, lime and cucumber garnish. Another splash of that Cocchi Americano gives it complexity. Probably best as a summer drink but very quaffable at any time of year.

35ml Hendrick’s gin
20ml lime juice
15ml simple syrup (equal portions of water and white caster sugar)
15ml rose liqueur
15ml Cocchi Americano
slice of cucumber
a few fresh mint leaves

Measure the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and top up with ice. Shake and then strain into a frosted highball glass over crushed ice. Garnish with a very thin strip of cucumber twisted round the inside of the glass, a sprig of mint and rose petals.

 

Goldfinger

This one is as unabashedly over-the-top as the venal character after which it is named, calling for vintage port, vintage champagne, expensive cognac and garnishes including gold leaf. It’s a champagne cocktail with – very expensive – bells on, and quite a bit of fruity depth. The book points out that you could, in principle, make it with far less expensive ingredients – but then implores you to ask yourself: “would Auric Goldfinger do the same?”

40ml Martell XO (or other premium cognac)
20ml Taylor’s 1985 vintage port (or other vintage port)
20ml blood orange sherbet 
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp simple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
75ml Bollinger (or other vintage champagne)

Measure the ingredients (except the champagne) into a cocktail shaker and top up with ice. Shake then strain into a large, tasteless gold goblet. Top up with champagne and garnish with dried blood orange slices, mint leaves and gold leaf.

 

The Dr Bird 

What a damned fine drink this is. The conceit is a bit of a stretch: the stipulated brands all involve birds in some way, in homage to Fleming’s love of birdwatching (he named James Bond after the author of “Birds of the West Indies”). But this is no mere flight of fancy. An even split of bourbon and rum creates an intriguing base to which the lemon juice and (easily made) peppermint-tea syrup add a wonderful tart/savoury balance. Don’t use spiced rum.

25ml Eagle Rare 10 Year Old (or other bourbon)
25ml Doorley’s XO rum (or other golden rum)
20ml Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Blanc (or other white vermouth)
20ml peppermint tea syrup (steep a teabag in 150ml of boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain and add 150g caster sugar)
20ml lemon juice
20ml egg white
2 dashes of Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Boker’s bitters.

Measure the ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously to whip the egg white to a foam, then top up with ice. Shake again, then strain into a chilled compete and garnish with a lemon twist (shaped as a bird).

Shaken: Drinking with James Bond and Ian Fleming (Ian Fleming Publications and Mitchell Beazley), foreword by Fergus Fleming, photographs by John Carey

Portrait of Ian Fleming by Cecil Beaton. Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's