Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, co-creator of the James Bond movie franchise, had the foresight to see that the 007 films, like the fine tastes of the super spy, were going to be too expensive to be sustained by box-office collections alone.
The Italian-American therefore launched the Bond tradition of product placements, aggressively continued till this day by his daughter Barbara, making brands such as Aston Martin, Omega, Dom Perignon, Beluga caviar and, yes, Smirnoff vodka a part of every cinema buff’s vocabulary.
A vodka brand that originated in Tsarist Russia but has been made in America over the last eight decades, Smirnoff was a struggling spirit label in its adopted country – it was being marketed as “a white whiskey” – till the No. 21 made its first movie appearance in ‘Dr No’ in 1962.
And it shows up in the 25th Bond film, the Daniel Craig-starrer ‘No Time to Die’, strategically placed in a bar scene between the actor and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ star Ana de Armas, who plays the “badass” CIA agent, Paloma. Bond films, in fact, turned the idea of a martini – London dry gin plus dry vermouth – on its head by popularising the genre of vodka martini.
It is said that if the invention of the cocktail Moscow Mule gave Smirnoff its first big push in America, the association of James Bond with vodka martinis turned it into a global brand.
Ian Fleming’s Bond would have balked at the idea, for he drank mainly the old English favourite, Gordon’s gin, drove Bentleys and smoked Moreland cigarettes, and his firearm of choice was a Smith & Wesson. He did occasionally quaff a Russian or Polish grain vodka, but the only brand to ever find a mention in a Fleming novel – in ‘Moonraker’, his third – was the Wolfschmidt, which used to be distilled in Riga, Latvia, and patronised by the Tsars, and is now owned by the American liquor giant, Beam Inc.
In a scene that drinks enthusiasts love to recall from the novel ‘Moonraker’, set in Blades, the fictional gentleman’s club patronised by the spymaster M on Park Street, “a quite backwater off St James’s”, Bond has a Wolfschmidt straight up with slices of raw salmon.
Bond doesn’t have the drink without first stirring a little bit of pepper into it in deference to an old Russian practice – pepper was meant to soak up the impurities in the spirit in the days when it wasn’t filtered multiple times as it is done today (10 times in the case of Smirnoff, as its makers would have us know).
Interestingly, the first cocktail to ever find a mention in an Ian Fleming James Bond novel – his first, ‘Casino Royale’ – is the Americano, a refreshing summer drink that combines a measure each of Campari and Cinzano served with a generous helping of ice and a slice of lemon.
In the 1953 novel, the Americano precedes the famous Vesper, named after the Russian agent Vesper Lynd, whose ingredients include three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka (no brand names mentioned), half a measure of Kina Lillet (a French aperitif, which in England of the 1950s was a much favoured addition to gin), shaken until ice cold and served in a deep champagne goblet with a large thin slice of lemon peel.
Sadly for Ian Fleming followers, the Vesper was overshadowed by the ubiquitous vodka martini, and although Finlandia (‘Die Another Day’, 2002) and Belvedere (‘Spectre’, 2015) have stepped in as the principal vodka brands in the rare absence of Smirnoff, the original favourite of James Bond since the time of ‘Dr No’ is one name that follows 007 wherever in the world his ‘licence to kill’ takes him.
–By Sourish Bhattacharyya