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Timeline 60: James Bond in the Movies

Live and Let Live

The icon that is 007 celebrates sixty years of film, as Alastair Gilmour reminds us, but curiously James Bond hardly ever drinks beer

We were already familiar with James Bond when Dr No was released in cinemas in 1962 – sixty years ago. The books by Ian Fleming had grown in popularity since Casino Royale was published in 1953 to the extent that the great British public was dying to see if the secret agent hero they had nurtured from the printed page had lived up to their fleshy expectations.

Sean Connery as Bond certainly did – smooth but rough round the edges, sophisticated with an undercurrent of the uncouth, erudite, complex and urbane, all of which Fleming no doubt would have wished upon himself. James Bond being played by a Scot who liked a drink was the icing on his cake of mystery.

We all remember the key phrases. “My name is Bond, James Bond,” he tells agent Rosa Klebb on page 204 of From Russia With Love. Then there’s the “shaken, not stirred” request to a waiter concerning a dry martini which probably never happened like that, but we swallowed it.

A display of 007 DVDs in HMV in Newcastle
The introduction of all introductions made its first appearance in the 1957 novel From Russia With Love

Ian Fleming chose champagne, vodka, bourbon, whisky and brandy far ahead of beer as James Bond’s drink of choice. The British Secret Service creation even drinks three times as much sake as he does beer in the cumulative total of films and novels. 

Our introduction to Bond and alcohol comes in chapter five of Casino Royale when he orders an Americano (a Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water cocktail). Then he issues his unforgettable instruction to the waiter. 

“A dry martini,” he says. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.” 

“Oui, monsieur.” 

“Just a moment. 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. Got it?” 

Now, why couldn’t beer have been his choice? After all, Bond is the quintessential Briton and beer – Bitter, Mild, Pale Ale, Stout or Porter or anything in between – is our national drink. Ian Fleming could easily have guided his hero along an ale trail that would have seen it regarded as a suave, slick and sophisticated drink for aspiring professionals, had he only instructed the waiter with:  

“Premium English Bitter. One. In a deep tapered, short-stemmed and unpretentious 13-ounce schooner.” 

“Oui, monsieur.” 

“Just a moment. Tap it gently to hear the distinctive ping of finely-burnished glass. Serve at 12ºC and pour gently and steadily down the inside of the tilted vessel. Gradually steepen the angle and pour more directly to allow for zesty carbonation and a robust head of 24 millimetres. My preferred choice would be a bottle-conditioned beer, one that is undergoing a secondary fermentation. Stop pouring just before the small quantity of yeast sediment surges forward, though it certainly does no harm whatsoever – quite the contrary. Got it?” 

If that conversation had taken place, vodka would have remained the relative curiosity it was in post-war Britain. Beer, glorious beer – every regional variation of the stuff in every style, colour, aroma and flavour combination – would be the drink to be seen with, the drink to impress with and the drink to wake up with to slug in the arms of a beautiful Russian spy.

Drinkers the world over would know the difference between a Bock and a Brown, a Scotch and a Stout, a Light and a Heavy, and would count on a Dubbel or a Tripel for a singular experience. 

In his first appearance as Bond – Casino Royale’s 2006 movie remake – Daniel Craig is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred. 

“Do I look as though I give a damn?” he snaps, thereby making the character his own with a wistful nod towards something else ­– beer perhaps?

But the “shaken, not stirred” argument shows no sign of disappearing, even being raised in a paper published in the British Medical Journal.  

‘Shaken Not Stirred: A Bioanalytical Study of the Antioxidant Activities of Martini’ examined the hypothesis that shaken martinis may enhance the antioxidant effects of alcohol, making them ‘healthier’ than the stirred variety. The conclusion, having wound its way around ‘the luminescence of hydrogen peroxide reacting with luminol bound to albumen’ demonstrates that shaken martinis are more effective in deactivating hydrogen peroxide than stirred ones. In other words, stirring is ‘better’ for you. 

Bow tie removed and ready for some Bond action

Sadly, Bond hardly ever seems to touch beer, according to members of a Californian group of 007 devotees high on Bondage. 

“In Geneva, he’d drink a Lowenbrau,” writes a Commanders Club spokesman (with absolutely no evidence to support the hypothesis). “In the States, it’s a Miller’s High Life; a couple of Red Stripes in Jamaica and as many as four steins of local brew in Munich if in the company of an ex-Luftwaffe pilot. But he eschews English beer. It, like cider, belongs in pubs... and 007 does not.” 

Skyfall, 2012, shows Daniel Craig as Bond drinking a bottle of Heineken rather than his signature martini. This has prompted the usual – and increasingly tedious – media comments about product placement in the movie franchise, mainly by people who choose to ignore the Rolex watches, Aston Martins and Smirnoff Vodka which have featured prominently since the secret agent went by the name of Sean Connery.

Perhaps they’ve also forgotten that Heinken’s distinctive green bottles also played supporting roles in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Daniel Craig himself has defended the product placement choice of beer brand – and that the vast majority of cinema-goers rather enjoy spotting brands – explaining that Bond films cost an awful lot of money to make (and almost as much again to promote) so relationships with a number of companies have to be secured.

“That’s how it is,” he told the Huffington Post. “The great thing is that Bond is a drinker, he always has been; it’s part of who he is, rightly or wrongly and you can make your own judgement about it. Having a beer is no bad thing. In the (Skyfall) movie it just happens to be Heineken. There’s a big furore about it, but it’s not what the movie’s about, I promise you. It’s my favourite choice of beer. I drink it every morning – doesn’t everybody?”

The heavily-promoted Heineken brand in Skyfall caused a lot of people to question the whole idea of product placement
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