James Bond’s Beer

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I’ve been a huge fan of James Bond since I was a kid. I read all of Ian Fleming’s novels and even the later ones when John Gardner took over the series, among others. And, of course, I’ve seen all of the films many times. Not only am I aware that Sean Connery was not the first James Bond — it was an American, Barry Nelson — I’ve had a videotape of the show for decades. It was originally aired as a teleplay on live television in 1954 (eight years before Sean Connery debuted as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No) on the show “Climax!.” It was based on Fleming’s novel Casino Royale and Peter Lorre played the villain, Le Chiffre. Suffice it to say I’m a big fan.

So when I read that in the new adaptation of Casino Royale (due in theaters November 17) Bond will drink a Heineken in a six-figure cross-promotion, I must say my first reaction was suspicion. Suspicion because every single time this story was reported it contained a justification for this move, saying that in Fleming’s novel his character James Bond does drink beer for the first and only time. If they want to have Heineken be a sponsor for the film and have the character drink one, that’s their decision even though I really hate these type of deals where products are featured prominently in films for big bucks. To me the insertion of the products into the action is way too obvious so that it distracts you from what makes movies so enjoyable, which is allowing you to escape into the story. It’s hard to feel swept away into a story when a giant bus drives by behind the action with a billboard reading “Drink Coke” every time the characters are walking outdoors. And in Pierce Brosnan’s second film as James Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies, during a “rooftop motorcycle chase in Saigon, Bond returns the bike to street level by using a parked truck which carries cases of Heineken beer as a ramp. Cans fly in every direction. Several kegs of Heineken are seen when the motorcycle briefly skids.” The Amsterdam brewer’s relationship with the Bond films has thus been going on for some time now, so it’s really no surprise that they’d want to crank it up a notch for the new movie.

But trying to justify such a greedy, commercial intrusion by saying it will make the film more accurate since the news stories all claim Bond did drink a beer in the novel seems to me avarice run amuck. A common element all of these news stories shared was that while they all claimed that Bond drank beer in Fleming’s Casino Royale novel, not one of them gave any specifics. For example, in Dowd on Drinks, by William M. Dowd, he writes the following:

In the first Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” the character who became known for his knowledge and enjoyment of wines and spirits actually drank beer. (Pause here for startled gasps by those reading this sacrilege for the first time.)

How opprobrious. “Startled gasps? Sacrilege?” Now why someone who knows and enjoys wine and spirits also drinking beer would be a sacrilege is never explained, perhaps Dowd thinks it self-evident. But it’s highly insulting and it displays that media prejudice I’m always going on about. Here’s another drinks writer who apparently thinks all beer is bad and all wine (and spirits) are good. Must be nice to live in such a black and white world in which reality has no place in your version of things.

Another account, this one from the Hearst Group, said “[i]n the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, the super spy who became known for his knowledge and enjoyment of wines and spirits actually (my emphasis) drank beer.” Oh, he actually drank beer, he didn’t pretend to drink it, or he didn’t just order but actually choked it down, too. What on earth is wrong with these people? Can they not see how ignorant they appear?

The reason, of course, they’re falling all over themselves to justify this move is obvious. The vodka martini, shaken not stirred, is part of the Bond ethos, a big part of his coolness, his personality and his popularity. So tampering with that is obviously risky but since there’s a lot of money at stake, they will do anything to keep the money without losing the fans. So by saying Bond actually did have a beer in the book makes it much easier to sell, as many of the reports have offered. For example, here’s how one wire service put it.

James Bond purists will be grateful to know that the beer plot is not just a money grab by the movie’s makers. Casino Royale was the first Bond book written by Ian Fleming and the only one in which Bond drinks beer.

So then the real question is, is it true? Did Bond drink a beer in the novel Casino Royale? I grabbed my dog-eared copy of Casino Royale from the attic in search of the answer and read it again, because it had been years since I’d cracked it open although I certainly couldn’t remember any reference to beer. I still have my old “complete and unabridged” Signet paperback that was in my parents house growing up. It’s a sixth printing from October 1962. Here’s what I found.

  1. In Chapter 5, on page 30, Bond orders his first drink in the book, an Americano. An Americano is a cocktail made with bitters, sweet vermouth, and soda water.
  2. In Chapter 7, on page 40, Bond orders C.I.A. man Felix Leiter a “Haig-and-Haig” (which is scotch whisky) and himself a “A dry martini” … “One. In a deep champagne goblet.” Then he gives the bartender more detailed instructions on how to make it. “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.” Have I stumbled upon the origin of Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” predilection? Bond tells Leiter that the drink is his “own invention” and that he plans “to patent it when [he] can think of a good name” demonstrating there are some subjects on which Bond is quite ignorant, patent law for example.
  3. In Chapter 8, on page 46, Bond shared a “cold carafe of vodka, very cold” with fellow agent and Bond girl “Vesper Lynd.”
  4. Later in the same chapter, on pages 47-48, Bond orders a bottle of champagne, a “Taittinger 45″ but the waiter persuades him that the “Brut Blanc de Blanc 1943″ would be better and Bond agrees.
  5. After long expositions about playing baccarat, Bond returns to drinking finally in Chapter 13, on page 75, when he ordered a bottle of champagne for himself and Felix Leiter to celebrate his victory at cards.
  6. Then in Chapter 14, at page 78, Bond orders another bottle of champagne, this time Veuve Cliquot, to have with his scrambled eggs and bacon, which he shared with Vesper.
  7. Shortly after that, Vesper is abducted and Bond gives chase, getting captured and tortured in the process. For many pages nothing is drunk, as Bond can’t even get a drink of water from his torturers. Eventually he gets away and after recovering in the hospital, goes on a holiday on the French coast with Vesper. In Chapter 24, on page 129, she and Bond share yet another bottle of champagne which he chased a page later with some brandy.
  8. Finally, in the second last chapter, number 26 on page 138, they share a final bottle of champagne before the story concludes unexpectedly (and I won’t give away the ending).

So unless I missed it somehow, there’s not one mention of beer in the novel I can find, much less a scene in which Bond actually drinks one. I skimmed through the book many times before resorting to re-reading the whole thing cover to cover trying to be thorough and not miss finding a bottle in a haystack. It was an awful lot of trouble just to prove a point. (The wonderful website Make mine a 007 also details the drinks Bond has in Casino Royale and reaches the same conclusion). So the propaganda spin machine is in high gear and not one news organization bothered to check the facts or even ask where in the novel Bond drinks this seminal beer that apparently makes crass commercialism justifiable. They all just reported what the press release said and didn’t question a thing, even though a moment’s pause should have been enough to suggest it might be too convenient. What are the odds that the story they were re-making just happened to be the only James Bond novel in which the main character drinks a beer as Heineken was paying them an undisclosed six-figure amount to depict him doing just that. Not one reporter considered exploring that angle? It’s good to know our nation’s media is the hands of such a capable, inquisitive bunch.

But let’s look at the story’s other claim, that Casino Royale is the one and only novel in which Bond chooses beer.

  • In Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming’s fourth Bond novel, 007 takes Bill Tanner to lunch at Scotts where he orders a Black Velvet, which is a mixed pint of champagne and Guinness.
  • Later in the same novel, while driving to Saratoga with C.I.A. compatriot Felix Leiter, they stop at roadside greasy spoon called “Chicken in a Basket” where Leiter and Bond have Miller High Life with their lunch.
  • In Goldfinger, the seventh novel, while chasing the villian through Europe, Bond washed down his lunch at Geneva’s Bavaria brasserie with Löwenbräu beer.
  • In The Hildebrand Rarity, one of the short stories in the collection published under the title For Your Eyes Only, after circling an island in a boat Bond stops for a chicken salad sandwich and a “cold beer” from a cooler. This story first appeared in Playboy magazine in 1960.
  • In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the 11th novel (excluding the short stories), Bond has four steins of Franziskaner at the Franziskaner Keller with his taxi driver to celebrate his engagement to Tracy. It is in effect his bachelor party and when he’s reunited with his fiancee, she accuses him of smelling “like a pig of beer and sausages.”
  • In The Man With the Golden Gun, Fleming’s 13th novel, while searching for Scaramanga, Bond orders a Red Stripe in the Dreamland Cafe and has two more before he leaves.
  • In The Living Daylights, part of a second short story collection, this one published under the title Octopussy and the Living Daylights, Bond has a lunch of salted herring and two draft Löwenbräus.

That’s a total of seven instances where James Bond has a beer in six different Fleming stories (four novels and two short stories). So not only does Bond not have a beer in Casino Royale, it was also not the only instance of his doing so as virtually all of the recent news stories have claimed. And lest you think they can weasel their way out of this lie by claiming they meant the Bond films, Bond has also had beer on screen before, too. In the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, after escaping from Piz Gloria, Bond orders and drinks a beer from an outdoor stand while trying to blend into the crowd. So at every level, the moneyed interests of the film production company and the beer sponsor, with the media’s complicity, is simply rewriting history to fit their short term goals of having Bond drink a Heineken for money in the latest film.

Propaganda aside, I’m certainly in favor of James Bond drinking beer. If they’re trying to re-invent (or reboot) James Bond — which is my understanding of what the new film represents — it makes sense that a modern Bond would have embraced good beer along with the other pleasures of life today. That would be in keeping with the character’s philosophy. Undoubtedly one of the reasons that Bond was not a beer drinker in 1953 and beyond, when Fleming began writing the Bond novels, was that there were not many good beers widely available worldwide and what was available was not often written about. Remember Michael Jackson’s first beer book wasn’t published until 1977. And American wines were held in no better regard during that time period, either. So keeping Bond’s tastes and preferences rooted in a time fifty years ago, when the diversity and quality of alcohol beverages was vastly different than it is today, doesn’t make sense anymore, if indeed it ever did.

But Heineken? Not Heineken. Bond’s character would never drink such swill. He wouldn’t be a snob about wine, food, clothes, cars and practically everything else and then drink such a pedestrian beer. In fact, in the novel Casino Royale, in Chapter 8, just after ordering champagne, Bond makes the following pronouncement:

“You must forgive me,” he said. “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. It’s very pernickety and old-maidish really, but then when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”

So there is absolutely no way someone who would say that would turn around and order a skunked green-bottle of Heineken. Maybe a Thomas Hardy 1968, a Samuel Adams Utopias, a Deus, or a Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. He’d more likely order something showy, expensive and impressive; something that showed he had good taste. And that would never be a Heineken. Often Bond orders local specialties in the novels and films, and Casino Royale takes place in northern France. The fictional resort town where most of the novel takes place is supposedly near the mouth of the Somme River in the Picardie region, which is only about two hours from Belgium. So while France is not known for its beers, a good selection of Belgian beers would likely be available at the casino and area restaurants. That’s what a beer savvy Bond would order.

The way I see it, this is simply a money grab despite — or perhaps because of — all of the protestations that it’s not. As entertainment news goes, this seems to be important to a lot of fans, which is no doubt why the spin was necessary in the first place. The story was certainly picked up by a lot of news outlets, both in print and online. That not one I could find got the story right but did the spin doctor’s bidding so completely says quite a lot about the state of our media, I think. Sure, in the end, who cares if a film and the media hoodwinked people into thinking one thing while another was true? It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of life. It is, after all, just a movie. And while that all may be true, I can’t help but think that in a media culture where the truth seems to have no bearing in editorial decisions that lying to the public about something that really does matter is getting easier and easier to do. Because if the media can lie to the public so unabashedly here, what else are we being lied to about? What else are we not being told? What else is the media not bothering to check or follow up on? And most importantly, when will they start taking beer seriously?

For trivia’s sake, there was also a Bond beer once upon a time. In 1968, there was “James Bond’s 007 Special Blend,” brewed by National Brewing Co. of Baltimore, Maryland. They’re highly collectible because they were produced for only a short time, which was due to having never been officially licensed.

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“A subtle blend of premium beer and malt liquor.” Umm, what will they think of next?

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Comments

  1. The Solex Agitator says

    James Bond drinks a Miller beer in the Ian Fleming short story “James Bond In New York.” The story can be found in the American editions of Fleming’s travleogue book THRILLING CITIES.

  2. Kevan says

    Rumour has it that Bond orders a Gilroy ale in a top class Cape Town hotel in the latest novel, Carte Blanche which is based in Dubai and SA.

    To be confirmed…

  3. says

    Excellent post! I cited it in my blog on Bond switching to Heineken in my blog post:
    http://johnsciacca.webs.com/apps/blog/show/13999660-bond-james-bond-neither-shaken-nor-stirred-

    I’m not so disappointed with Bond drinking a beer — as you mentioned, there’s precedence — but more so that it is a Heineken! Bond would never select such….swill.

    I came up with 10 scenarios and 10 beers that fit far better and more organically into Bond’s world. Would love you to take a look and comment on my selections… Here’s #10 with links to the successive beers at the end…

    http://johnsciacca.webs.com/apps/blog/entries/show/14004696-bond-s-beer-of-choice-10-assassin

    Best,
    John

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