House of Lords Gin (And Martini & Rossi)

When Felix Leiter and James Bond meet in the King Cole Bar at the St Regis in Live and Let Die prior to heading out to Harlem, they have martinis while making plans for the night.

Leiter ordered medium-dry Martinis with a slice of lemon peel. He stipulated House of Lords gin and Martini Rossi. The American gin, a much higher proof than English gin, tasted harsh to Bond. He reflected that he would have to be careful what he drank that evening.

House of Lords gin was a brand put out by Booth’s Gin, which was founded around 1740 – in London. Fleming referring to it as “American gin” is a little confusing to me, unless he means that the gin imported to America is a higher proof than what is available in England. (Note: After checking with @007Dossier on Twitter, he suggests that it may have been a mixup on Fleming’s part in terms of the proof. 80 proof in the U.S. would’ve been 70 proof in the UK.) I haven’t found any evidence of this, however. All advertisements that I’ve found for the gin show it to be a 86 proof.

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Martini and Rossi is perhaps the most well-known brand of Vermouth in the world. The company had its origins in 1840, and was renamed Martini, Sola & Cia in 1863 before becoming Martini & Rossi in 1879.

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Gordon’s Gin

In Casino Royale, when James Bond first orders his famous martini, later to be called The Vesper, he specifies “three measures of Gordon’s.”

Earlier in the book, Bond overhears some people at the bar:

‘Moi, j’adore le “Dry”,’ (Me, I like the “dry”)  a bright-faced girl at the next table said to her companion, too neat in his unseasonable tweeds, who gazed at her with moist brown eyes over the top of an expensive shooting-stick from Hermes, ‘fait avec du Gordon’s, bien entendu.’ (made with gordon’s, of course.)

‘D’accord, Daisy. Mais tu sais, un zeste de citron . . .’
(I agree Daisy. But you know a piece of lemon peel…)

It appears Bond is not the only one who prefers Gordon’s in his dry martini.

In Thunderball, when Felix Leiter is giving his lecture to the barman on bar profits, he notes that One bottle of Gordon’s Gin contains 16 true measures double measures that is, the only ones I drink.

In Risico, when meeting Kristatos, Bond is specific in ordering his drink:

Bond nodded. “A Negroni. With Gordon’s, please.”

The waiter walked back to the bar. “Negroni. Uno. Gordon’s.”

These are the only occasions in the Ian Fleming novels where Gordon’s is mentioned. The context of how the brand is mentioned however, surely indicates that it was a preferred brand of Bond’s.

Gordon’s was first made in 1769 by Alexander Gordon, and according to the brand website, the recipe – a tightly guarded secret – remains the same today.

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Cresta Blanca Vermouth

After Felix Leiter surprises James Bond in Manhattan in Diamonds Are Forever, they go to lunch. Bond visits the washroom and when he returns, Leiter has already ordered for him.

There was a medium dry Martini with a piece of lemon peel waiting for him. Bond smiled at Leiter’s memory and tasted it. It was excellent, but he didn’t recognize the Vermouth.

“Made with Cresta Blanca,” explained Leiter. “New domestic brand from California. Like it?”

“Best Vermouth I ever tasted.”

Cresta Blanca was one of California’s most historic wineries, having been founded in 1882. In 1889, a white wine from Cresta Blanca won the Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition – the first time a California wine won a competition in France. With the victory, the future of the wine industry in the state looked much stronger.

They also made a Vermouth, which was what Leiter ordered above. The winery was purchased by Schenley Distillers  in 1941, and closed in 1965. The site is now a historical landmark.

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Miller High Life

While on the road to Saratoga with Felix Leiter in Diamonds Are Forever, they stop for lunch at The Chicken in the Basket for lunch. The place seems dubious,

But the scrambled eggs and sausages and hot buttered rye toast and the Millers Highlife beer came quickly and were good, and so was the iced coffee that followed it, and with their second glass they got away from’shop’ and their private lives and got on to Saratoga.

In the short story 007 In New York, James Bond is pondering his midday dining options.

And what about the best meal in New York – oyster stew with cream, crackers and Miller High Life at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central?

Bond ultimately decides against this option, but clearly it is something he has had in the past. (We’ll look at the Oyster Bar in a future post.)

High Life is Miller Brewing’s oldest brand, dating back to 1903. Because of its high carbonation level, it is known as “The Champagne of Beers” this is perhaps why Fleming included in the the story. It comes in distinctive high-necked glass bottles to go with the champagne image. Miller High Life was considered a high-end beer for many years in the United States. Now, not so much. Because of the carbonation, it’s a decent drink on a hot summer day (like drinking an alcoholic soda) but isn’t good for much else.

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Virginia Gentleman Bourbon

In The Spy Who Love Me, when Vivienne Michel is settling in for her intended evening of memories of her life, she prepares by pouring a drink.

There was just one good drink left in the quart of Virginia Gentleman bourbon that had already lasted me two weeks, and I filled one of the best cut-glass tumblers with ice cubes and poured the bourbon over them, shaking the bottle to get out the last drop.

Virginia Gentleman is a brand produced by the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. This article will tell you just about everything you need to know about Virginia Gentleman bourbon, including why it is true bourbon despite being distilled in Virginia, and not Kentucky.

The page notes that since it is from Virginia, and popular around Washington D.C., that:

For foreign ambassadors and distinguished guests of our country who may have tasted only one bourbon in their lives, Virginia Gentleman could well have been that bourbon.

We know Ian Fleming tasted plenty of bourbon in his life, but given his wartime visits, it’s proximity to Washington D.C. might’ve made it one of his earlier brands.

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The above images which date from the 1950’s, show two gentlemen being served by an African-American slave. The label was updated in later years to a more acceptable image.

Black and White

In Moonraker, when James Bond stops at the World Without Want in, he orders a large whisky and soda.

He sat up at the bar and waited while the man poured two measures of Black and White and put the glass in front of him with a syphon of soda.  Bond filled the glass with soda and drank.

Black and White is a blended scotch whisky which was originally made by James Buchanan & Co Ltd and known as House of Commons. The nickname of its black and white label eventually stuck.

After a series of sales, the brand is now owned by Diageo.

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Brandy

Page will be updated as we go through the novels.

There are times James Bond drinks brandy, or even a (few) brandy and soda(s) or ginger ale.

For the latter, he seems to drink them when flying, or getting ready to fly. Perhaps the ginger ale is for his stomach?

In Casino Royale, when Bond and Vesper have their first dinner at the inn following Bond’s recovery, they finish their meal with coffee and brandy.

In Moonraker, when playing cards at Blades, large balloon glasses of brandy, along with coffee, are served at the tables. After Bond tries the brandy, M says:

“Comes from one of the Rothschild estates at Cognac. About a hundred years ago one of the family bequeathed us a barrel of it every year in perpetuity. During the war they hid a barrel for us every year and then sent us over the whole lot in 1945. Ever since then we’ve been drinking doubles.

Also, when Bond and Gala Brand are returning from having a cliff face dropped on them, they head off to a local inn where Gala has two, and Bond has three brandy and sodas.

In Thunderball, after his experience on “the rack,” Patricia Fearing sneaks Bond some Brandy as a “stimulant.” Bond drinks two glasses, over ice.

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while in character as Sir Hilary Bray, as he is waiting to depart for Switzerland,

Bond had a double brandy and ginger ale and stood aloof from the handful of other privileged passengers in the gracious lounge, trying to feel like a baronet. 

Bond then has another just prior to takeoff.

When Bond has escaped and has gotten back to London, he instructs Mary Goodnight to have May brew him “plenty of black coffee and to pour two jiggers of our best brandy into the pot.”

After the assault on Piz Gloria, Bond finds himself in the hands of the Red Cross, being treated for his injuries, and the Red Cross man “produced a flask of brandy out of his box and offered it to Bond. Bond gratefully took a long swig.”

In You Only Live Twice, on his way to Japan via J.A.L., Bond “ordered the first in a chain of brandies and ginger ales that was to sustain him over the Channel, a leg of the North Sea, the Kattegat , the Arctic Ocean, the Beaufort Sea, the Bering sea, and the North Pacific Ocean…

In Octopussy, the brandy and ginger ale “the drunkard’s drink” is the drink of choice for Major Dexter Smythe, who has them invariably “stiff” – “almost fifty-fifty” beginning at 10:30 am.

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Wolfschmidt Vodka

During James Bond’s night at Blades with M, they start their meal with some vodka.

“Ah, Grimley, some vodka, please.” He turned to Bond. “Not the stuff you had in your cocktail. This is real pre-war Wolfschmidt from Riga. Like some with your smoked salmon?”

Bond has a rather unusual method to drinking his vodka:

When M. poured him three fingers from the frosted carafe Bond took a pinch of black pepper and dropped it on the surface of the vodka. The pepper slowly settled to the bottom of the glass leaving a few grains on the surface which Bond dabbed up with the tip of a finger. Then he tossed the cold liquor well to the back of his throat and put his glass, with the dregs of the pepper at the bottom, back on the table.

M. gave him a glance of rather ironical inquiry.

“It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,” apologized Bond. “There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff-at least there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bath-tub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit. But I shouldn’t have insulted the club Wolf-schmidt,” he added with a grin.

Here are a couple of ads from that era. Keep in mind though, that M and Bond were drinking “prewar” Wolfschmidt, which was likely much different from what was being marketed later.

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Originally created in Latvia, Wolfschmidt is now owned by Luxco, Inc.

Dom Perignon ’46

After M places his wine order at Blades in Moonraker, James Bond asks the wine-waiter to make a suggestion.

The wine-waiter was pleased. “If I may suggest it, sir, the Dom Perignon ‘46. I understand that France only sells it for dollars, sir, so you don’t often see it in London. I believe it was a gift from the Regency Club in New York, sir. I have some on ice at the moment. It’s the Chairman’s favourite and he’s told me to have it ready every evening in case he needs it.”

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Here are tasting notes from this vintage:

Wine Spectator
94/100 (09-1986)
Really lives up to its reputation; rich and toasty like the Doms of old. Dry and full-bodied, pale gold in color, with fine, slow bubbles, smelling of fresh bread dough and toast. Highly extracted, lemony, toasty, smooth, elegant, clean and crisp, with very good acidity and balance. Long finish.

Mouton Rothschild ‘34

In Moonraker when James Bond and M are having dinner at Blades, 007’s boss gives his wine order:

“Then what?” asked M. “Champagne? Personally I’m going to have a half-bottle of claret. The Mouton Rothschild ‘34, please, Grimley. But don’t pay any attention to me, James. I’m an old man. Champagne’s no good for me.

A few bottles of the 1934 Mouton Rothschild are still circulating and people are still opening and tasting them.

A 2008 professional review from the link above:

The 1934 Mouton Rothschild immediately seized control of this flight with its deeper, richer and lusher nose. It was very brooding by comparison with its incredible and trademarked chocolate aromas, accompanied by earth, minerals and nuts. The nose also had an intense trio of cedar, ceramics and mahogany. The palate was intense and hearty, meaty and long with great acidity. The finish was thick and grainy. Rob picked up on some also trademarked ‘mint.’ Earth and oak flavors rounded out this beauty…

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You can click on the second image for some tasting notes from someone who has tried this particular vintage.