Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ian Fleming's Dr. No (1962)

Ian Fleming's Dr. No is iconic in number of ways. While not the first James Bond story in both print and on the small screen. That honor belongs to Casino Royale published in 1953 and produced for American TV in 1954 (for more information of the TV program read The Curious Legacy of Casino Royale from the website). Dr. No introduced us to the James Bond character that 50 years later is still captivating audiences worldwide. While a number of actors were desired for the role (including Cary Grant by Ian Fleming himself) the movie helped to catapult relative unknown actor Sean Connery to superstar status. In terms of cocktails, the term "Shaken, not stirred" was uttered on film, forever changing how the Martini is made both in terms of Gin versus Vodka debate and in terms of preparation of said cocktail.

We find out early in the movie that Bond prefers his martini as a medium-dry Vodka martini, shaken, not stirred. The medium dry part comes in with using less of your standard portion of Dry Vermouth. The drier the Martini, the less Dry Vermouth used.

Our First Glimpse at James Bond's Medium Dry Vokda Martini
"Shaken not stirred" made with Smirnoff Vodka
In the entire movie, the Vodka used in the aforementioned Martini and on the rocks by Bond is Smirnoff Vodka. That got me thinking. Why Smirnoff and not another brand. I think the answer comes in the form of a man named John Gilbert Martin.

In the article Smirnoff White Whiskey -- No Smell, No Taste by Bill Ryan from the New York Times dated February 14, 1995, Ryan describes how, Martin as the head of the Hueblein Corporation, was able to make Smirnoff Vodka an international spirit:
By the late 1930's, with World War II impending in Europe, threatening to cut off liquor imports here, Martin was the president of Heublein, which was still a small company.

Then came Smirnoff.

Martin had learned that in the town of Bethel, about 50 miles from Hartford, a man named Rudolph Kunett was manufacturing vodka on a very small basis. Kunett had fled Russia during the revolution there two decades before. He brought to Connecticut a great quantity of rubles and a patent to make Smirnoff, the only vodka served at the Imperial Russian Court. Unfortunately, the rubles were worthless on the world market and the Imperial Russian Court did not provide much cachet because it no longer existed.

Nevertheless, Kunett had set up a small vodka plant in Bethel and was trying to build an American market. He was enjoying a notable lack of success. Americans did not drink vodka. Most had never even heard of it. Martin offered Kunett a deal. He would buy Kunett's equipment for $14,000, give him a job and a royalty of 5 percent on each bottle of Smirnoff sold for 10 years. Kunett took the offer and Martin set out to see if he could sell Smirnoff, the vodka of the czars, in an age when there were no czars.

Smirnoff vodka is basically a mixture of pure grain alcohol and water filtered through charcoal. It requires no aging and production and sales started in Hartford in 1939 even before Heublein had any caps for the vodka bottles. Instead, caps labeled "whiskey" were used.

One of the first out-of-state sales was to a distributor in Columbia, S.C., who bought 10 cases. A short time later, the distributor ordered 50 more cases, then 500 cases. And Martin went to Columbia to check on the marketing phenomena. He later recalled, with more than a bit of delight, what he had found.

"We had a salesman down there and he had put up a great streamer: 'Smirnoff White Whiskey -- No Smell, No Taste,' " The Hartford Times quoted Martin as saying in a 1964 article. "It was strictly illegal, of course, but it was going great. People were mixing it with milk and orange juice and whatnot."
Martin, in conjunction with restaurateur Jack Wilson of the Cock-'n-Bull in Hollywood, created an iconic drink that combined Smirnoff Vodka and Ginger Beer known as the Moscow Mule. The combination of the Vodka and Ginger Beer helped to further popularize Vodka within the United States. It wasn't until the Cold War began post World War II that Smirnoff Vodka became the most popular and best selling vodka of its time:
It was early in the cold war with Russia, and New York bartenders, in a parade down Fifth Avenue, carried a huge banner: "Down with the Moscow Mule -- We Don't Need Smirnoff Vodka." The Daily News put the poster on the front page. Martin later recalled that Heublein employees rushed in to see what he was going to do about the bad publicity. "Do! It was great," Martin said. "All the people who saw the sign were rushing into the bars to buy the drink."

Martin began a campaign to get people to drink the vodka with not only ginger beer but practically anything else, including iced tea and beef bouillon. It was all promoted by exotic high-gloss magazine ads showing Smirnoff with celebrities or in strange and wondrous places. Smirnoff, thanks in part to the campaign, eventually became the world's best-selling vodka, and it still is.
It would make sense that by 1962 Smirnoff Vodka would be the vodka used in Dr. No.

The next spirit that was featured somewhat in Dr. No was a scotch whisky that was noticeable by its distinctive use of Black and White Scottish terriers as their mascot: Buchanan's Black and White Scotch Whisky. As you can see in the picture, the bottle to the left of Bond has a small black diamond with a white circle inside with the aforementioned black and white terriers.

Buchanan's Black and White Scotch Whiskey is seen to the far left
while Bond and Quarrel interrogate Dr. No's agent
At first I had difficulties in trying to figure out what this spirit was. Luckily for me I know someone who is one of the most knowledgeable people that I know when it comes to whisky: The Coopered Tot.

After finding out that the bottle was indeed a bottle of Buchanan's Black and White, I asked whether it was still being sold or if it had been rebranded. According to Joshua the scotch was popular here in the United States from the 1930's until the mid 1970's. The distinctive feature of the long running ad campaign were the same black and white dogs that you see on the label in that screen picture from Dr. No. According to the Alternative Whisky Academy:
This brand was first known as House of Commons, but the customer simply asked for the black bottle with the white label. Therefore it was renamed Black and White.
Now both Joshua and I were unsure about where the dogs came in aside from the dogs being Scottish terriers. They were cute. Maybe that was the reason. There is an 1968 ad entitled The Story of the Black and White Scotties: And the man who made them famous which would give us the answer we are looking for. Unfortunately the text in the screen shot is blurry and hard to make out. I guess I have some more research to do.

The last item that I noticed in Dr. No was during the scene where Dr. No is "hosting" dinner for both Bond and Honey Ryder. Dr. No has his servant bring James Bond a medium dry Martini with a Lemon Peel Shaken, not stirred while Honey Ryder is served what looks like a red wine which is not mentioned.

While at dinner, Bond is served some Dom Pérignon '55 to which Bond tries to get under the skin of Dr. No by saying that he prefers the Dom Pérignon '53.

The Dom Pérignon '55 being served by Dr. No's servant
The Dom Pérignon website describes the origin of this brand:
In 1668, young monk Dom Pierre Pérignon took office as the cellarer and procurator of the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers on the northern slopes of the Marne, in the heart of Champagne. Under his watch the abbey prospers, especially the vineyards.

Until his death in 1715, he makes no exception to his ambition for perfection, to create "the best wine in the world" as said in his own words on September 29, 1694. Dom Pierre Pérignon invents, perfects and passes on the enhanced techniques to create a wine whose reputation is second to none.
In terms of why the champagnes of Dom Pérignon are dated with what seems oddly numbered years, here is the explanation:
Dom Pérignon is Vintage only. Each Vintage is created from the best grapes grown in one single year. To reinvent itself in interpreting the unique character of the seasons. To dare to not release the Vintage when the harvest does not meet the ideal. Such is the commitment of Dom Pérignon.
The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was the 1921 and a total of 40 vintages have been produced (1921, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004).

A number of these been featured in a number of Bond films.

Well, there you have it folks. I hope you like my first installment of SiscoVanilla at the movies. I look forward to watching more movies with a keen eye to what is being consumed and served. If you have any recommendations, feel free to drop me a line at, to my Twitter @SiscoVanilla, my Google+ at SiscoVaniila and at my Facebook Page SiscoVanilla.

I leave you with two more pictures of James Bond enjoying some Smirnoff Vodka in Dr. No.:

Until Then Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla