Thursday, 13 September 2018

He Means His Cock(tail):
Shaken - Drinking with
James Bond & Ian Fleming

If you're a) a fan of James Bond and/or Ian Fleming, b) are nurturing or have fully developed an expensive dependence on obscure alcoholic drinks, and c) can read, then good news: the mixologists at London's sexy booze dungeon Bar Swift have only gone and compiled a book of Bond-based cocktail recipes just for you! It's called Shaken: Drinking with James Bond & Ian Fleming, and while it should probably have added the disclaimer "(not literally)" to its title, it is nevertheless a fine-looking addition to your library / bar / downstairs toilet.
Endorsed by Ian Fleming Publications (which is about as official as you can get without Barbara Broccoli coming round and licking it), Shaken is the first book to seriously investigate James Bond's crippling booze habit in such an entertaining, thirst-inducing way. Its major selling point is the forty original recipes conjured up by the Swift guys, but its cheeky twist is the way it ties these recipes into Ian Fleming's world. Each drink is followed by a selection of relevant quotes from the Bond books and other assorted bits of Fleming's writing, with a garnish of trivia that begs to be picked apart by awful Bond pedants (don't look at page 23 if glaring errors in Bond lore make you do a shit).

As you'd hope, there's some stunning photography and delightful illustrations accompanying all those boozy, Bondy words, and a cursory flick through in the Food & Drink section of Waterstones will be enough to send you straight to the nearest 'spoons for their approximation of a Vesper (good luck). But this is, first and foremost, a cocktail recipe book, so let's talk cocktail recipes.

Side note: among the many, many ways in which I am exactly like James Bond is my health-threatening relationship with fancy grog. My sideboard groans under the weight of fifty-odd bottles of random spirits I've picked up over the years in the misguided belief that I won't drink two shots of each and then decide I don't like it. So it was with a justifiable sense of preparedness that I parted this book's pages, ready and willing to whip up as many of its recipes as I could with my unnecessarily large selection of boozy booty. And this is where Shaken gets a bit shaky.
"You know, that's not half bad. I'm gonna have to think up a name for that.
I know! I shall call it SEXY FUCKJUICE"

As well as the forty original recipes, there are ten more for some of the "standard" cocktails that feature heavily in Fleming's books: the Martini, the Negroni, the Daiquiri, the Old Fashioned, blah blah blah. I've mixed a million of these. If you haven't, you can google those recipes in seconds. But of the forty new drinks, I was visibly distressed to discover that my extensive collection of weird and wonderful alcohol allowed me to make... four. (Of those four, I've so far made three, and to be fair they were all delicious - in fact there is a Blofeld just to my left, sheeing me through writing thish posht.) So unless you work behind the bar at the Savoy or are Gerry from Gerry's of Soho, the chances of you getting much practical use out of Shaken as a cocktail recipe book are slimmer than a straw full of slimline tonic water.

Maybe I'm being presumptuous. Maybe you've got loads of mastiha liqueur, yellow chartreuse, velvet falernum or Branca Menta knocking about next to your Aldi gin and that Smirnoff you picked up on the way back from Corfu, in which case great, enjoy this book! But even you can probably forget knocking out a round of Kissy Suzukis unless you've got plenty of Unkai Nayuta No Toki buckwheat shochu and Akashi-Tai Shiraume Ginjo Umeshu in. In its defence, Shaken does tell you how to make some of its peculiar ingredients at home, but I'm just not sure how many of us have the time or the inclination to throw together a batch of rooibos syrup in order to mix a Dr No (assuming you've also got some kind of gentian liqueur handy, which the recipe also calls for).

So it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend this book, even as a 007 fan who loves a cocktail or three while rambling on the internet of a Wednesday evening. It's certainly a lovely thing, curated with an obvious passion for Bond and with due deference to fans, especially those who love the books as much as the films: the inspirations for some of the drinks (the Trueblood, the Dreamy Pines) are hugely rewarding for the most devoted among us. And if you don't mind not being able to make most of the drinks on offer, it's still a fun read and a classy piece of Bondiana. But a good cocktail book shouldn't feel exclusive to its audience, and if you're not a patholigical collector of pretentiously-packaged liquid intoxicants then it's difficult not to see Shaken as a somewhat mis-marketed product.