The name's malt... Single Malt...

The name's malt... Single Malt...

James Bond is drinking whisky again. More specifically, he's drinking Talisker – and the relationship is benefiting both of them. Dominic Roskrow reports

Whisky & Culture | 24 Mar 2003 | Issue 29 | By Dominic Roskrow

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The bar’s crowded and noisy when Bond enters, but he is noticed immediately. He is dressed perfectly, tux and bow tie spotless, hair groomed to perfection.His target – in more ways than one – is at the bar, and he spots her immediately. She is wearing designer evening dress and she exudes beauty. As he approaches she looks partly amused, partly intrigued.“The name’s Bond, James … ” he starts.“I know who you are,” she says curtly, in an accent that would once have been Russian but is now indistinctively Slav or East European. “A vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, I presume?”“Actually, no. May I have a single malt whisky. A little water, no ice?”CUT.Surely there’s some mistake? After all, doesn’t everyone know what 007’s favoured tipple is?Yes and no. For the martinis have been a flamboyant emblem of Bond’s style and panache over the years, but you suspect that he’d choose whisky at home. And while Scotch has been sidelined in the films, in the original Ian Fleming books, whisky always was his drink of choice.Perhaps directors didn’t consider whisky cool enough for 007, but in recent times it has made a comeback. It featured in the recent James Bond film The World is not Enough, complete with exploding ice cubes. And it features in the latest film, Die Another Day.It seems that in these post-Glasnost years, James Bond is moving on. Just as the baddies are no longer communists, Miss Moneypenny is 30 years younger than she used to be and political correctness has even seeped into the world of Britain’s best-loved secret agent, so it is that the rest of his image is undergoing a makeover.So how come single malts, and in particular Talisker, feature in Bond’s brave new world?Die Another Day follows the same pattern as the previous film The World is not Enough, featuring Talisker in a specific and considered, but not particularly obvious, way.With a growing trend towards product placement in Hollywood films, it would be easy to conclude that it was there because money was exchanged. But that isn’t the case at all.And while the recent movie Spiderman found the comic-book hero travelling forever on the top of a Carlsberg lorry, and the Green Goblin swinging a bottle of Maker’s Mark directly at the camera, Talisker’s presence in Bond is altogether more discreet.Diageo says it paid nothing for Talisker’s presence in the film – it’s there on merit.And while it did pay to promote the drink at the premiere party, even that says something about the brand. After all, you can’t imagine the promoters extending the same opportunity to an Australian beer brand or an alcopop company, no matter what they were prepared to pay.“If we had gone down that route and done what some other brands have done – paid a lot of money only to hardly feature in the film at all, we would have used up our entire annual marketing budget,” says Diageo’s marketing director Nick Morgan.“It was used in the MI6 scenes in the film because of the kudos the brand adds to the image of Bond. It is a statement that Bond knows what he wants. He drinks Talisker because he has supreme self-confidence, he knows what he likes, he relates to the unique and powerful qualities of the drink.”The clear implication here is that the relationship isn’t just one-way. The brand benefits from the exposure, but so does Bond in his association with the product. And if every aspect of James Bond’s image is carefully nurtured, that must mean that someone somewhere in film-land thinks a powerful single malt is a trendy and stylish icon.So are single malts becoming hip?Mark Dinning, features editor at Empire magazine, thinks that it’s well possible. Stylish classical chic is on the way back, and Bond’s image has been cultivated accordingly, he says. Whisky is clearly part of that.“The current Bond isn’t that different from when Sean Connery first played in Dr No in 1962,” he says. “He is a hero and has all the desirable characteristics that go with that status. In that sense his image is already set. But, of course, there are things that change, and while there is only so much filmmakers can do to the character, Bond does evolve with the times.“Bond is unlikely ever to lose his association with vodka-martinis. In simple terms, Bond is associated with items that are stylish and sophisticated, so single malt whisky would seem to fit that criteria.“In its simplistic marketing terms, the suggestion would be that if you drink Talisker whisky then you are being like Bond. It could be said that Bond’s characteristics are reflected in what products he is associated with and vice-versa.”Talisker clearly fits the Bond profile; suave and sophisticated in appearance, but very masculine, powerful and explosive on closer inspection. Nick Morgan might not totally go with that description of the brand, but he certainly sees the association, and believes it can only be good for it.“In Europe particularly, the Bond icon is associated with a timeless, classical style,” he says. “Talisker shares those qualities and it is the case that the brand is growing at quite an exceptional rate in Europe.”What it all means for the single malt market is that among affluent 30-something drinkers, single malts are in danger of becoming fashionable. Just as Bond has refocused on the traditional and core values of style and sophistication in the face of the threat to him from new-generation heroes such as Vin Diesel, young professionals have shown signs of moving away from vodka drinks to whisky ones as a deliberate statement.Not just to single malts, either. Bourbon-based cocktails are becoming a badge of style. The uncertain economic outlook meant that Christmas was more restrained this time around, and several style-bar outlets noted that a big outlay on top-price champagnes had given way to less lavish expenditure and a few cocktails.“An increasing number of professional people are ordering a Woodford Reserve and coke rather than a JD and coke,” commented one. “For them it is a fashion statement. And they’re backing that up by ordering classic cocktails. It’s bringing in a whole new generation of drinkers, and
while the fad will fade eventually, at least some people will stay with whisky as a result of it. And that has to be encouraged.”Certainly, the trend is in full flow in Europe. In Paris, for instance, long-time top club Les Bains Douches still expects its customers to dress in a classic white shirt and black suit, and serves whisky as part of the admission price.“It is a timeless and classical approach and people will return to it time and time again,” comments Parisian fashion writer Nathalie Leray. “When you talk about Bond and single malt whisky, that all sits very easily with Paris’s affluent trend-setters.”How significant the association between Bond and Talisker will turn out to be is anyone’s guess, but it indicates that there are people who can envisage the young and hip warming to single malts. And that has to be good for the whole industry and should be nurtured and developed.“The reason James Bond films are popular after such a long period is that they appeal to a wide and varied audience,” concludes Empire’s Mark Dinning. “Perhaps that should also be the case with single malts. They might start out appealing to a small elite group who want to relate to Omega watches, BMWs and Aston Martins.“But through Bond, that might be opened out to a bigger audience. It’s a case of being associated with such a rich history.”
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