‘When I’m… er… concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad.
To call James Bond a thinly veiled wish-fulfillment stand-in for author Ian Fleming is to make the hilarious presumption that there’s any veiling at all. The Bond of the novels was basically a walking, talking catalog of everything that happened to interest and delight Fleming at the time he happened to be writing that particular novel (the movie Bond, on the other hand, was modeled somewhat more closely after British director Terence Young). Whether it was a drink, a meal, or “Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos,” just about everything that fills James Bond’s universe was ported over wholesale from his creator’s life. And as anyone familiar with the books or the movies knows, alcohol occupies an important — more likely the most important — place in Bond’s life. Not to mention my own. And perhaps yours as well.
James Bond’s signature drink has become as iconic as the man himself. Across the world, anyone who can understand what you are saying probably gets the reference. And just about every novice drinker makes the social faux pas of ordering their first martini by saying, “a vodka martini, shaken not stirred,” while thinking they’re maybe the first (or, at worst, the third) person to order a martini that way. Slightly nerdier Bond aficionados will hit the bartender or waitress with the full set of instructions from Casino Royale (unless you happen to be drinking at New York’s Beekman Bar and Books (www.barandbooks.cz/beekman), the city’s preeminent Bond-friendly bar, in which case simply asking for a “Vesper” will be understood). Bond fans who are nerdier still, however, will do what I’m about to do: drone on in a verbose fashion about the fact that, while pop culture identifies James Bond with the martini, Ian Fleming’s James Bond was really more of a whiskey man (or champagne, if he’s wooing a dame). In fact, after the betrayal Bond suffered at the hands of Vesper Lynd at the end of Casino Royale, dont think he ever orders a Vesper again. So, what does the discerning Bond fan — the one who feels “a martini, shaken not stirred” is just a little too gauche a reference — need to know in order to control the bar like 007? Why don’t we take a quick journey through the literary Bond’s actual favorite drink.
According to the late, lamented website Make Mine a 007, Bond drinks no fewer than 317 drinks throughout the series of books authored by Ian Fleming (the cinematic version lags considerably behind despite tere being more movies than books). One hundred one of those are whiskies or whiskey cocktails, with Bond heavily favoring bourbon over scotch — not an accident that Bond champions the American drink over his closer-to-home companion, really, since Bond also rails against the vileness of tea and expounds at length about why he prefers coffee. But scotch need not worry. Bond’s usual drinking buddy, the American CIA agent Felix Leiter, seems to have two functions in the novels: to slap his forehead and exclaim, “James, you’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?” and to order Haig and Haig scotch whiskey.
Bond Gets Pinched
Haig and Haig — the official whiskey of Felix Leiter, forever living in Bond’s shadow and acting as his Watson, but also pretty much the official whiskey of the Bond books as a whole. I don’t think any brand is mentioned by name and consumed quite so often as Haig & Haig — which is known these days as Pinch and instantly recognizable thanks to the odd-shaped bottle enclosed in a thin web. I was recently at a party where I got to drink a considerable amount of Pinch from a bottle that had been sitting in someone’s parents’ apartment since the 1960s. The nature of whiskey means that the aging process ends as soon as it goes into the bottle, so from a technical standpoint, the Pinch I was drinking then is no different than the Pinch I’m drinking right now, purchased just a few weeks ago. However, what it also means is that I was tasting something very similar to what Leiter and Bond consumed so much of, if you allow that the decades and changes in ownership might have altered the recipe and taste of Pinch slightly over the years. Whatever the case may be, it was good then and it’s good now.
Haig and Haig, or Pinch — or Dimple, as it’s known everywhere but the United States — has a storied past as one of the very first recorded examples of a whiskey distilling company, when farmer Robert Haig was summoned before church elders in 1655 to answer for the crime of operating his still on the Sabbath. Blue laws, you know. Haig and Haig itself, however, came into existence 1824, when one of the God-offending farmer’s descendants, John Haig, opened a distillery in Cameronbridge, Scotland. In 1870, John’s son, John, became the first Haig to go into scotch blending. One of his best creations was Pinch, which was introduced to the market sometime in the 1890s. Haig and Haig was eventually absorbed into the conglomerate United Distillers and Vintner, and later became part of multi-national beverage leviathan Diageo, which still markets Pinch.
Massive quantities of the stuff, still referred to at the time as Haig and Haig (that portion of the name was eventually dropped) are consumed in the Bond novels. Felix Leiter has two Haig and Haigs on the rocks in Casino Royale. In Live and Let Die, both Bond and Leiter drink it in Harlem, and then share a bottle when they’re in Florida. Bond also drinks the scotch by himself while wasting time in his hotel room in New York. In Moonraker, Bond finds a half a bottle of Haig and Haig in the villain’s desk and drains it with Gala Brandt — you know, to prepare for the harrowing life-or-death mission ahead. The Dimple also makes appearances in Goldfinger, the short story The Living Daylights, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where Marc-Ange Draco drinks Pinch when he first meets 007. As Draco seems to be one of the Bond associates for whom Fleming had the most affection (note his “warm, dry handshake” — a sure sign of trustworthiness in any Bond novel), having him prefer Pinch is a glowing endorsement.
A note about the iconic bottle: you can either grip it by a single spine or by two. Holding it by a single spine forces you to, well, pinch at it, and the grip tends to be slippery. Gripping it by two of the spines affords one a steadier grip — provided one has larger hands than a wee lad such as myself. For fear of dropping the bottle, a small-handed fellow has to hold it like a pitcher, cradled gently in one hand while the other lightly tips up the bottom. Faced with such an unmanly style of pouring, I decided to abandon myself to fate and throw as much panache and dandy flourish as I could. With that task thusly discharged, it was time to get down to the tasting proper. Really a pleasant little dram. Not one to think about, but definitely one to have. Like many popular blends, there’s nothing remarkable about it, and it’s primary goal seems to be being merely drinkable. Which it is, and I never have a problem with that. Not every scotch has to involve hours of puzzling over. Sometimes, it’s OK just to be perfectly decent. Sometimes, you don’t have to be Bond, and Pinch is definitely the Felix Leiter of scotch.
The Black and White of It
Bond also proves fond of another classic malt — Black and White, a blended scotch whiskey that traces its beginnings to the 1880s. It was an offshoot of London-based whiskey makers James Buchanan and Company’s Buchanan Blend and was originally known as House of Commons. Buchanan was actually born in Canada, lived in Scotland, and was raised in Northern Ireland. He got into the whiskey business largely as a result of his brother’s grain company, and after picking up experience, became a London agent for whiskey blenders Charles Mackinlay & Co. He set up his own company, acquiring casks of whiskey for clients, five years later but soon noted that the bulk of the product available on the market did not appeal to the London palette. So he set out to create a blend that would find purchase among the denizens of the big city.
The result was House of Commons, taking its name from the fact that one of Buchanan’s biggest clients for the spirit were London music halls belonging to the United Music Halls Co. and the British House of Commons political body. However, the distinctive packaging — a black bottle with a white label depicting a black Scottish Terrier and white Westhighland Terrier — eventually became so recognizable that the whiskey changed its name to Black and White. Buchanan pushed Black and White into other markets — specifically in France, Germany, Canada, The United States, New Zealand and South Africa. He established satellite offices in Paris, New York, Hamburg and Buenos Aires. He used the money from his success to purchase several Scottish distilleries, including the lowland distillery Bankier and the highland distillery Convalmore. He built his own distillery, Glentauchers, at Mullben in 1898 and later acquired the Campbeltown Distillery Lochruan.
Unfortunately, Buchanan — like many distillers — ran into hard times when the American folly known as Prohibition went into effect. The turn of the century already saw the industry in turmoil, with many distilleries folding. Distillers in the UK began forming coalitions. Chief among these was the Distillers Company, Ltd. Buchanan and some associates formed their own Scotch Whisky Brands, Ltd. in 1915. When, on top of that, such a significant market for their wares suddenly dried up thanks to a gang of unruly teetotalers across the Atlantic, things got really dire. Buchanan’s coalition changed its name in 1919 to Buchanan-Dewar’s after a merger. Eventually, the Buchanan portion of the equation was dropped, and Dewar’s became part of the DCL family. Black and White changed hands a couple more times, passing for a time to Guinness before finding its way to its current home under the globe-encompassing umbrella of spirits megalith Diageo, which I hear is actually controlled by SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavros Blofeld (citation needed).
Ironically, the whiskey initially blended to appeal specifically to the taste of Londoners was unavailable in the United Kingdom for decades. You can still buy it elsewhere, though, and very recently an effort has been made to reintroduce it to its home market. It’s now in a plainer, green bottle, though the label still sports the recognizable Scottie and Westie. Bond drinks his first Black and White in the novel Moonraker, when he stops in at a Dover pub called World Without Want to investigate the murder of a Ministry of Supply security officer. He also enjoys a Black and White in the movies, when in Dr. No he, Leiter, and Quarrel are enjoying a post-dinner round right before they confront a mysterious female photographer trying to snap their pictures.
As with Pinch, what you taste now may be markedly different than what Fleming and Bond were tasting in the 1950s and 60s, though what you’ll be tasting now is pretty pleasant — light, somewhat grassy, a little sweet. The change, if one has taken place, is because the nature of the scotch business has changed substantially. For many decades, everyone drank blended whiskey, so all the best single malts went into the blends. There was little market for the single malts themselves. But somewhat recently, that has changed. Blends still make up the bulk of the whiskey consumed in the world, but a large market has also emerged for the single malts themselves, meaning that these days, a portion of those “very best” single malts are themselves being bottled rather than being put into blends. Plus, a whiskey like Black and White has changed hands a number of times, meaning that the particular blend can change over the years.
Blending In is Important to Spies
Being a man slightly ahead of his time but still very much of his time, when James Bond drank scotch, he drank blended scotch. So what the hell does that mean, you might wonder. Whiskey is a drink that appeals to a lot of nerds primarily because it lends itself so well to analogies drawn from mathematics. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Similarly, all scotch is whiskey (or “whisky” if you’re Scottish), but not all whiskey is scotch. Get your Venn Diagram drawing arm ready, because we’re going to take a quick foray into the fun and sometimes infuriating world of categorizing whiskey.
First of all, there’s the over-arching category of “whiskey.” In the United States and Ireland, we spell it with an “e.” In Scotland, they don’t feel the need for the letter, but they love adding a “u” to everything. But whiskey or whisky, it’s all whisk(e)y, a distilled spirit made from grains and water, with yeast added to activate fermentation. Scotch, simply enough, is whisky made in Scotland. Like champagne is to a specific type of sparkling wine from a specific region in France, so is scotch a legally defined and pugnaciously protected term. It has to be whisky, and it has to be from Scotland. There are other rules, but those are the basics. Within the sub-category of scotch, there are three main divisions: single malt, vatted malt, and blended scotch. A single malt is a whisky that comes from one distillery and is made from 100% malted barley. Single malt scotches are considered the purest expression of a distillery’s style(s), and they’re very much in demand these days.
A vatted malt is a mixture of single malts from different distilleries. Someone like Compass Box, making a vatted malt, is free to pick and choose from any of the single malt distillers in Scotland, mixing a Laphroaig with a Balvenie with a Clynelish in order to achieve a very specific flavor profile. A properly vatted malt takes into account the individual characteristics of the single malts and combines it in a way that, if the vatted whisky maker has done his or her job properly, allows the varied flavors to weave together. Typically, a vatted malt will use only a few single malts. Compass Box, for example, never uses more than three or four single malts in their vattings. Vatted malts are, at least in the United States, the least commonly available of the three main types of scotch.
Blended scotch makes up the vast bulk of the scotch that is made and consumed. Traditionally, when people have referred to scotch, they were referring to a blend, and when someone who isn’t a whisky nerd is asked to name a scotch brand, chances are that if they don’t say “Jack Daniels” they’ll probably name a blended scotch — Johnnie Walker, J&B, Dewars, Cutty Sark, and so forth. Blended scotches take a number of single malts — sometimes as many as forty, fifty, or sixty different ones, in pursuit of a particular profile. But where blends differ from vattings is that the combined single malts are then blended with a neutral grain spirit — think something close to vodka, produced cheaply and in huge quantities (thanks to being made on a different type of still than single malts, but we’re not going to get into that right now). This doesn’t necessarily mean that neutral grain spirits are shoddy product — some of them are of a high quality, but they aren’t a single malt. In a blend, the neutral spirit generally makes up the bulk of what you’re drinking.
Because most single malts, despite the market for them on their own, are still sold to blenders (in fact, quite a few single malts will never be tasted as single malts by consumers, as 100% of the output is allocated for blending), and because less actual “whisky” goes into them, blends are much cheaper and, thus more popular. Some are great, some are good, and a few are questionable, but master blenders have been at this game for a long time now, and in a competitive market like whisky, few producers manage for very long with an inferior product. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the world of scotch, or if you are looking for a gift for an old timer, blends are almost always your best bet. Master blenders work hard and have passed knowledge down for decades about creating appealing, enjoyable, and above all, consistent blends.
Bond in Bourbon Country
That’s all well and good, but Bond, despite being a citizen of England with Scottish blood, often bucks the trend. His preference in whiskies is no exception, and though he enjoys scotch on occasion, the James Bond in Ian Fleming’s books is a bourbon man. Bourbon, like scotch, is a protected term. Anything calling itself bourbon has to adhere to a certain number of requirements — one of which is not that it has to be made in Bourbon county, Kentucky, despite what many people think. It doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky at all, though most of it is. Aside from fulfilling the basic agreed-upon rules for being whiskey, bourbon also has to be made in the United States. Its “mash bill” — basically, the grains that go into the fermentation tank — can vary, but it must be at least 51% corn. The other grains are usually rye and barley, sometimes wheat, and occasionally people get fancy and try out grains like oats or rice. The spirit must be aged in charred, unused, American white oak barrels (a concession to the unions back in the day, but also a way to control flavor consistency). No artificial flavoring of coloring can be added to it. There are other rules regarding the maximum proof at distillation, the maximum proof going into the barrel, and the minimum proof going into the bottle, but if you grasp the basics, then you’re on the right path.
Like scotch, bourbon has a few sub-divisions: bourbon, straight bourbon, and Kentucky straight bourbon, all depending on how many of the various sets of rules you want to follow. For our purposes here, I don’t think we need to go into those sub-divisions in any detail. But let’s cover a few things right now. Jack Daniels is not bourbon. It’s very close, but “Tennessee whiskey” adds the step of filtering their spirit through charcoal, and that can’t be done if you want to call something bourbon. Thus Jack Daniels, George Dickel (my personal preferred Tennessee whiskey), and other whiskies from just south of the Kentucky state line are their own beasts. Also, Southern Comfort is not bourbon. It’s not even whiskey. It is to American whiskey what Drambuie is to scotch: a liqueur that uses a whiskey base. Got it? Cool. Now let’s move on.
What’s more important than the legal details, at least for James Bond and Ian Fleming, is how you drink your bourbon. Among whiskey nerds, I think our version of “who’s better — Kirk or Picard?’ is “what’s better — water or no water?” Like many indulgences, it’s ultimately a question of personal preference; the right way to drink a whiskey — any whiskey — is the way you enjoy drinking a whiskey. So while you may break my heart if you pour such and such whiskey into a glass full of ice, many other people disagree.
As for adding water — the one thing you can’t argue is whether or not it changes the whiskey. It does, and I’m not just talking about “watering it down.” Even a couple drops can make a tremendous difference in the way a whiskey smells and tastes. I’m kind of a moron, so I can’t explain it to you on a chemical level, but the gist of it is that a couple drops of water will dampen the burn of the alcohol, allowing the whiskey’s flavors to take front and center and allowing your mouth to and nose to enjoy the spirit without getting anesthetized by the alcohol. But sometimes the change is even more profound that that, with an entirely different set of scents and tastes appearing after you add a bit of water. As for me, personally — I like to try every whiskey I have “neat,” at least at first. That means no ice, no water. Some people will tell you this is the only “true” way to drink whiskey, but anyone who says that is sort of full of it. It may be their “preferred” way, but that’s not the same thing. Once I’ve had a proper taste of the whiskey neat, I’ll decide whether or not to add water. I usually don’t — not because I’m opposed to it, and not because I think the whiskey wouldn’t taste even better with it. I usually just sort of forget, unless I’m drinking for purely whiskey-profession related reasons. But usually I’m drinking like Bond is drinking — socially with a friend from the CIA, or because I need to calm my nerves before blowing up someone’s rocket base/terrorist headquarters.
In general, James added a little water to his American whiskey or drank it on the rocks (I’m not a fan of ice in my whiskey). In fact, a goodly portion of Diamonds are Forever is obsessed with detailing the evolution and proper making of a bourbon and branch water. Bourbon and branch is, simply bourbon and water. By strictest definition, “branch” water should come from a small, pure creek or stream branching off from a river — thus the name. But I’m not sure how many of us go down to the river to get our water these days, and since the closest “branch” to me is the Gowanus Canal, I’m happy to substitute any decently filtered water. When adding water, I generally like to add my own, since I know how I want a whiskey to taste. A bourbon neat with a glass of water and a stirring straw equips you with everything you need. Use the straw to add the water — or if you want to take the advice of a friend from Laphroaig (one of the most distinctive and boldest single malt scotch whiskies), take a sip of water, then take a sip of whiskey. That way you don’t over-water your spirit without any going back. Since I need to keep a hand free to grab a gun out of my jacket or a nearby woman by the waist, I stick with the straw and progress a few drops at a time until I get where I want to be.
Bond seems fond of two bourbons in particular — Old Grand-Dad and I.W. Harper. Of the two, Harper is the harder to find in the United States, though if you happen to be in the middle of a You Only Live Twice adventure in Japan and don’t feel in the mood for sake, you’re in luck.
Harping on the Subject
In 1867, with nothing more than $4 in his pocket (actually, I’m sure a lot of people would have enjoyed having $4 in 1867), a German by the name of Isaac Wolfe Bernheim made the big move from Schmieheim to New York with, I assume, big dreams. Things didn’t work out quite as planned, though, and he ended up working as a traveling salesman in Pennsylvania. It was a rough time to be an American. The Civil War that ravaged the country had only ended a couple years earlier, and much of the United States was still in a state of devastated exhaustion. Bernheim enjoyed some degree of success as a peddler, at least until his horse keeled over and left him with no means to realize the “traveling” aspect of being a traveling salesman.
Luckily, he’d squirreled away enough money to afford to move to Paducah, Kentucky, where he got a job as a bookkeeper for liquor wholesaler Loeb, Bloom, & Co. After working there long enough to afford his brother’s passage to America, I.W. founded his own liquor company, Bernheim Brothers & Uri, in 1872, in partnership with his brother, Bernard, and his wife’s brother, Nathan Uri. In 1889, Bernheim was able to purchase the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery in Louisville and renamed it Bernheim Distillery Co. One of the first products they bottled was I.W. Harper.
And as with most of the whiskies we’ve discussed, so begins a long history of being handed from one owner to the next, passing first to the Schenley Distilling Corporation in 1937 and ultimately into the hands of Guinness and Diageo, where it remains today. Though it’s no longer available in the American market, it’s still available in some duty-free and overseas locations, especially Japan. Tracing exactly where recent bottles of I.W. Harper come from presents whiskey fans with the usual brick wall of multinational inscrutability. However, since many Diageo bourbons come from the Four Roses distillery, and since Four Roses is partially owned by Kirin, AND since Four Roses has a heavy presence in Japan, where I.W. Harper is one of the premiere bourbons (so much so, in fact, that it’s unavailablity in the United States is to keep people from buying it as a cheap bourbon here and exporting it to Japan, where it is a premium bourbon), it makes sense that current bottles of I.W. Harper are coming from Four Roses — but like I said, this is only guesswork.
Harper then and now enjoys a decent reputation, though, and once again it gets the Ian Fleming seal of approval by having one of Bond’s favorite cohorts — European super criminal and father to Bond’s eventual wife, Draco, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, stocks his bar with I.W. Harper and Pinch. As Draco drinks Pinch, Bond manages to drain much of the man’s bottle of Harper.
The current Bernheim Distillery operated by Heaven Hill has nothing to do with the original Bernheim distillery, nor does the wheated whiskey bearing the Bernheim name. The current distillery isn’t even located in the same area. However, the current Berheim Distillery was built on the former site of two older distilleries, The Astor Distillery and the Belmont Distillery — the latter being the one-time home of I.W. Harper. Bernheim himself went on to devote much of his time and money to philanthropic pursuits, including the founding of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, which sits just a stone’s throw from the Jim Beam distillery where they make, among other things, Old Grand-Dad.
Your Grandfather’s Whiskey
If one thing binds American whiskey to blended scotch, it’s the tendency of a brand (or at least a brand name) to pass from person to person, company to company, until tracing the origin becomes something akin to trying to find your way out of a Minotaur’s labyrinth. Old Grand-Dad started life in 1840, when a family known as the Haydens opened a distillery. Raymond Hayden created a whiskey he named Old Grand-Dad, after his grandfather and distilling legend Basil Hayden (who is also commemorated with another bourbon, Basil Hayden, part of Jim Beams “small batch” collection). In 1899, Old Grand-Dad was sold to another distilling family, the Wathens, who, during Prohibition founded the American Medicinal Spirits Company. As the name suggests, the American Medicinal Spirits Company was a purely philanthropic, scientific, and medical undertaking, producing distilled “elixirs” that had absolutely nothing at all to do with skirting the Prohibition laws.
The American Medicinal Spirits Company eventually morphed into National Distillers Group, who handled the Old Grand-Dad label until 1987, when the brand was sold to Jim Beam. As with pretty much every name that’s been passed from one hand to the next, it’s hard to say how the Old Grand-Dad James Bond drank compares to the Old Grand-Dad you can buy in stores today (actually, it’s not that hard — you just have to be willing to pay out on eBay to buy a bottle from fifty years ago). More than a few people claim that under the stewardship of Beam, Old Grand-Dad has turned from a true “premium” bourbon into something of a bottom shelf trash bourbon. Others, of course, have exactly the opposite opinion, feeling that it’s become one of the tastiest and best valued whiskies around. You’ll have to make up your own mind, as usual, but I recommend trying all three current incarnations: the knock-your-socks-off 114 proof version, the 100 proof “bottled in bond” version, and the 86 proof. All of them need a moment before you drink them. Pour it, then let it sit a spell to “open up.” It allows some of the alcohol burn to dissipate. It’s still not exactly a mellow mouthful, but you’ll get more of the raisins, honey, and fruit the bourbon has to offer. A little water wouldn’t hurt, either. Bond even adds ice when he has himself an Old Grand-Dad in Live and Let Die
“Bottled in bond,” incidentally, means that the whiskey has been aged and bottled according to the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, which were described in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Aside form any tax regulations that proved advantageous to the U.S. government, the Bottled-in-Bond Act was meant to regulate, to some degree, the quality of distilled spirits — to make sure than when you were buying whiskey, you were really buying whiskey. It is to American whiskey what the laws of the Scotch Whisky Association are to scotch. In order to label something as “bottled in bond,” the spirit (in our case, bourbon) must be the product of one season, and one distiller at one distillery. It has to be aged in a “bonded” warehouse under U.S. government supervision, and it has to stay there for at least four years. When bottled, it has to be 100 proof, and the bottle’s label has to clearly identify the distillery where it was made. Back in the day, because you knew what it was and where it came from, bottled in bond became a mark of quality during a time when there was a lot of really bad rotgut circulating around the country.
Bond at My Bar
Ian Fleming had good taste in a lot of things, but he was hardly infallible (Miller High Life? Really?). In general, it’s hard to argue with his whiskey choices, though if I had a chance to offer up some more modern suggestions to Bond, I might do the following.
Live and Let Die
Sazerac Rye whiskey may come from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, but given that the Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans (or so they say), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend ordering a Sazerac made with Sazerac while Bond and Leiter are passing time in the Big Easy. Rye whiskey, which not surprisingly uses rye as its primary grain, is generally a little spicier and drier than a bourbon (though there are plenty of bourbons with a lot of rye in their mash bill, and thus a lot of spice). Contrary to what some may tell you, rye whiskey does not have to be made from 100% rye. In fact, it’s rare (or was — this seems to be changing) that rye contains only rye. The rule is that, where bourbon has to be at least 51% corn, rye has to be at least 51% rye. Unless your in Canada, in which case you don’t have to have any rye at all in your rye — it just has to smell or taste like you do. I don’t know how that works. The Sazerac cocktail is a New Orleans twist on the whiskey cocktail the Old Fashioned, combining rye, Peychaud’s Bitters, and simple syrup (sugar) in an old fashioned glass that has been coated with absinthe (or Herbsaint).
The Spy Who Loved Me
It may be the worst of Fleming’s Bond novels, but the upstate New York location affords us a chance to let Bond sample something from New York’s Finger Lakes Distillery. Either the McKenzie Bourbon or Rye would be perfect for the American-whiskey loving British secret agent. And while I might prefer the rye over the bourbon, we’ve already served James a rye, so let’s get him back to bourbon. Finger Lakes Distilling was founded by two guys named McKenzie (no relation, weirdly enough), who decided to start a distillery in the heart of New York state’s wine country. Sweet, with a heavy caramel corn taste, McKenzie Bourbon would be just the thing to help Bond get through his upstate adventure. I certainly need a bottle or two to get me through the book.
Diamonds are Forever
Bond and Felix engage in lengthy, detailed conversations about bourbon and branch water, so there’s no arguing that it’s the official drink of this book. But while he’s up in Saratoga, might we suggest that he try one of the regions own bourbons, Tuthilltown Distillery’s Hudson Baby Bourbon. Located in Gardiner, New York, and surrounded by the Shawagunks — the East Coast’s preeminent rock climbing and bouldering destination — Tuthilltown Distillery (www.tuthilltown.com) was the first shot fired in the revitalization of New York state’s interest in distilling. It was started by a guy looking to open a retreat for rock climbers, but when the city of Gardiner protested his idea for one mad reason or another, he discovered that a license to distill spirits in New York could be had for incredibly cheap. The town was apparently more willing to let someone make booze in the city limits than they were to let that same person allow rock climbers to spend the night. And so began Tuthilltown’s trial and error process of learning how to make whiskey. Very little that they do at the distillery could be called “traditional,” but anyone who appreciates inventiveness and the DIY spirit can find a lot to love about Tuthilltown. Their Hudson Baby Bourbon is a young, rough around the edges spirit, but I think James can handle it.
The book’s action eventually moves out west and involves insane mobsters who dress up like cowboys and have their own mock old west town, might we also recommend that you pour yourself a High West Rendezvous Rye? High West (www.highwest.com) is a fairly new craft distiller from Utah. They’re currently waiting for their own distillations to age properly, and in the mean time, they are “sourcing” barrels from other whiskey distillers — sampling and picking out barrels of aged whiskey to be bottled under the High West name. Whatever rye is currently comprising Rendezvous Rye is a phenomenal whiskey, and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t see Bond through his bizarre exploits in the Nevada desert.
You Only Live Twice
The easy choice here would be a Yamazaki 12 or 18 from Suntory, but Bond was a man of his time, and at the time, everyone drank blended whiskey. That’s why I feel the official whiskey of Bond’s escapade in Japan should be Suntory’s Hibiki 12. People who don’t know or are just beginning to learn about whiskey may scoff at the idea of Japanese whiskey, but anyone who has had it knows that there’s a reason it frequently beats out offerings from the United States and Scotland in competitions around the world. The Japanese are not messing around. They studied the Scottish methods intently, and they follow the rules with dogged determination. The end result is that Japan makes fantastic single malt and blended whiskies, and the Hibiki 12, for the price, is one of the finest around. If you’re trying to impress Tiger Tanaka, indulge the Japanese fascination with I.W. Harper, or bring him a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.
Thunderball, Dr. No, and The Man with the Golden Gun
Ian Fleming was never happier than when he was at his vacation home in Jamaica, and as a result, Bond had more than his share of adventures set in the Caribbean. That means everyone thinks rum, and while we might recommend Bond try a nice offering from Renegade Rum (the most whiskey-like of any rum I’ve had), we’re here to serve James whiskey.
The primary difference, incidentally, between whiskey and rum is that rum is distilled from sugarcane or molasses, but one place where whisky and rum meet is in the finish. It’s perfectly legal to take your single malt scotch whiskey and age it in a barrel that used to contain rum. Scots, ever thrifty, are keen on a deal. When the United States decided that all bourbon had to be aged in unused, charred American white oak barrels, Scotland graciously offered to step in and buy all those once-used barrels from the bourbon makers for much cheaper than it would be to make your own new barrels. Similar deals are in place with Spanish sherry makers, and ever since, whisky distillers have been experimenting with what happens when whisky is put into a variety of barrels. Ex bourbon and sherry still make up the bulk of what’s used, but rum barrels are increasingly common as well. When a whiskey is “finished” in a barrel, it means usually that it was aged for the bulk of its lifetime in a bourbon barrel, then transferred to a rum cask for some additional amount of time. That’s not always the case, but that’s generally how it’s done. It’s rare that the whiskey spends its entire life in a rum cask.This allows the spirit to pick up influence from whatever was in the cask previously. If it was American whiskey, it picks up the vanillas and caramels and toasted influence of that type of spirit. With sherry butts, it picks up a reddish hue and additional fruit and spice. And with rum, it gets the sugarcane sweetness.
So while Bond is in the Caribbean, I’m going to offer him a dram of the Glenfiddich Gran Reserva, a 21 year old scotch that was finished in ex Cuban rum casks – not because Bond has any real adventures in Cuba, but more because it’s hard to beat the story of Cold War era paranoia that follows the whisky. When Glenfiddich — one of the largest producers of single malt scotch — introduced the Gran Reserva, American customs agents balked at the “Cuban Rum Cask” designation, since the United States doesn’t want to have anything to do with anything from Cuba — even if that something is a Scottish whiskey that did nothing more than spend a little time in a Cuban cask that was purchased by a Scottish company which filled it and stored it in Scotland. Thus, Glenfiddich Gran Reserva was declared a tool of the Commies and banned from the United States.A few months later, Glenfiddich offered up a new whisky — Glenfiddich 21 Gran Reserva, with a slightly altered label that identified the whisky as aged in ex “Caribbean” rum casks. Everyone was happy, and you can buy it in the United States.
One is fairly overwhelmed by the choices Bond could make for this, his Kentucky adventure. Obviously, he’s already drinking mint juleps, but sometimes, you need to get away from the mint and just drink something straight. I’m going with Jim Beam Black Double Aged (classic Beam is aged four years; this one is aged eight), because it’s a fantastic whiskey and because Sean Connery was a pitch man for Beam back in the day. If you only know Jim Beam for their standard white label whiskey, you haven’t tasted what they’re capable of. Not that Beam’s standard offering is bad or anything — along with Wild Turkey 101, I think Beam is one of the most under-appreciated whiskies on the market — but the Black is a whole different world, while still lingering well within the range of affordability.
On the other hand, maybe we should just stick with Beam classic. I mean, how can you argue with Sean Connery?