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James Bond's Drinks: Heineken Wasn't 007's First Endorsement

Bourbon. James Bourbon.
by Reid Mitenbuler on Nov 29, 2012 in Culture
James Bond's Drinks: Heineken Wasn't 007's First Endorsement

Though critics agree Skyfall is arguably the best James Bond movie yet, its product placement has to be the worst (most of you agree — see our poll). It’s hard to believe that beer-savvy Britain’s most sophisticated man would drink Heineken — a step above Budweiser in cachet, sure, but certainly not one of the world's sophisticated beers. Bond is meticulous about his bespoke clothes, cars, and other accessories, but in this movie he drinks a beer that is mass produced and has hardly any flavor. It’s an unlikely choice, but Heineken paid $45 million for the endorsement.

However, this isn’t the first time Bond has shilled for a drink. Sean Connery used his 007 persona in ads for Jim Beam bourbon from 1966-1974. This is plausibly a step up from Heineken, but still an improbable match. Bond is Scottish, and it seems fair to assume he’d prefer a whisky from that region. Then again, rumor has it that series creator Ian Fleming wanted to give Bond some American characteristics (he has fetishes for high-tech gadgetry and martinis, the quintessential American cocktail), so maybe bourbon wasn’t such a bad choice.

Of course, Bond’s drinking habits are full of contradictions. He famously takes his martinis “shaken, not stirred,” which goes against the advice of many bartenders. Regardless, it’s a violent method appropriate for a man with a license to kill. Bond also drinks martinis made with vodka instead of the traditional gin. It’s an iconoclast move, especially for someone headquartered out of gin-soaked London. Then again, the occasional taste of Mother Russia’s preferred tipple is the perfect way for a professional cold warrior to vaccinate himself against his main nemesis.

If Skyfall has the worst drinking in the spy thriller genre, we’d like to suggest that Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana has the best. The story’s protagonist, James Wormold, is a hapless vacuum cleaner salesman who has convinced the world’s intelligence agencies he’s a master spy. Havana’s police chief, Captain Segura, becomes suspicious of Wormold and challenges him to a game of checkers for his freedom.

Instead of standard game pieces, however, the men use mini-bottles of brown liquor — bourbon for Wormold and scotch for Segura. The brands used for the different pieces include some classics: Old Taylor, Old Forester, Four Roses and Kentucky Tavern for the bourbons; and Cairngorm, Dimpled Haig, Red Label and Grant’s Standfast for the scotches. Each man drinks every mini-bottle he captures. The better a man plays, the drunker he gets. It’s a paradox where success diminishes the chance of winning, and the victor is ultimately the man with a higher tolerance.

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