Whisky & Culture

Kingsman - The Untold Story

We connect together the bottles and distilleries featured in the latest whisky blockbuster
By Jim Leggett
When it comes to the art of subtle, and not so subtle, blockbuster movie product placement, look no further than Matthew Vaughn’s latest Kingsman spy extravaganza The Golden Circle in which Old Forester Statesman straight Bourbon whiskey dominates a major story slant, generously funding Kingsman’s hefty production costs along the way.

Statesman, especially conceived for The Golden Circle, basks centre stage alongside stars Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal and Julianne Moore. As for Statesman’s distinctive character, here’s a whisky exclusive – this fiery 95 proof Bourbon was inspired by Kingsman character Eggsy Unwin, played by Welshman Taron Egerton.

Product placement is nothing new. It dates back to the early days of cinema, for instance in the 1927 black and white silent film Wings; Gary Cooper shares the screen with a publicity-placed bar of Hershey’s chocolate.

Aston Martin motorcars recently celebrated their 50 year history with the James Bond movie franchise. As an aside, the fabulous DB5 so skillfully thrown about by Sean Connery in Goldfinger and Thunderball, fetched a whopping $4.5 million via RM Auctions in 2010!

Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces, so beloved by E. T. The Extra Terrestrial, still milks associated film glory, while the late Gene Pope’s National Enquirer garnered rave laughter featured as America’s top tabloid in The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

Getting back to Statesman, Campbell Brown, President of Louisville based Brown-Forman, the family owned distillers of legendary Jack Daniel's, Old Forester and others, tells me, “Matthew Barzun, a former United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom was with his wife, Brooke, when they first met Matthew Vaughn at a dinner party in London.” By chance Vaughn was seated across from Brooke, who is Campbell Brown’s cousin.

“As conversation turned to Kingsman, Vaughn divulged his plans to expand the movie story line to America during pre-Prohibition, with a distillery backdrop where Statesman, a kindred organization of Kingsman located in the United States, which no one knows about, sold whiskey."

It was no problem snaring him to play the whiskey drinking cowboy named Champagne


Brooke exclaimed, “‘My family is in the whisky business! They’ve been distilling Bourbon since 1870, pre, during, and post Prohibition – it’s still a family run distillery!’”

Excited phone calls flew back and forth, Vaughn explaining to Campbell he was seeking a pre-Prohibition era distillery tied to the story line, and it had to be 1920s era, when Kingsman was founded.

“No problem!” Campbell replied, “you’ve come to the perfect place.”

“So, Matthew walks me though the opening scene where Kingsman HQ and crew are blown up… as Eggsy pours through the wreckage he discovers a safe, opening it with a special Kingsman key, inside, a sole bottle of Bourbon. After drinking, he looks at the bottle, notices Louisville, Kentucky - the “K” encircled – a secret Kingsman clue!” Fast forward, Kingsman action moves to Kentucky, Bourbon capital of the world… then as now.

Following a congenial conversation, Vaughn expedites a “for your eyes only” copy of his closely guarded script to Campbell. “After reading the story line, I consulted with our master taster Jackie Zykan, who took the script home to study, hoping to come up with a unique distillation for Statesman.”

“I’ve got the prefect idea.” Jackie exclaims, “Eggsy is constantly being challenged, the higher the stakes, the more he matures! So, I want the hottest barrels from our warmest warehouses, barrels stacked highest, others warmed by summer sun or lying near heat vents. Then, we bottle small batch runs from only those choice barrels, their liquid moving constantly in and out of the oak. Result? Statesman will be sassy, spicy and fiery - just like Eggsy!”

“I can tell you, I’ve never been more nervous sitting through a private screening in my life!” Campbell confides, “I’d seen Kingsman; The Secret Service with its violence, so I sort of knew what to expect.”

Adding to Campbell’s worries, Kentuckians were not portrayed in favourable light in Vaughn’s first Kingsman yarn - a thorn carefully addressed pre-production.

“He’s a straight shooter so when Vaughn looked me right in the eye, saying he was aware, said he’d address the issue in The Golden Circle we knew he would.”

True to his word, after The Golden Circle premier showing, everyone from Louisville mayor, Brown-Foreman staff and townsfolk too, were delighted with Vaughn’s treatment of both the city and Old Forester’s Kentucky Bourbon and Statesman.

Just as Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean enjoy merchandise related goods, Kingsman fans too can sip their very own souvenir – Statesman straight Bourbon whisky so delightfully tied to a clandestine bootleg booze story line.

As box-office sales confirm you can’t go wrong rehashing tales of moonshine, bootleggers, science fiction mayhem and sensational car chases.

Vaughn told reporters he didn’t set out to make a Secret Service sequel. “I wasn’t making a sequel, I was continuing the story, continuing the saga of the characters and at no point trying to top the first film. I think that’s always a bad thing, isn’t it?’ So he plans to elaborate on the journey they are on, be authentic, as he puts is “And everything will be fine.”

Eventually there could even be more than one cut of The Golden Circle. “I might be tempted to do a longer cut someday,” said Vaughn, who allowed a lot of improvisation on set.

“It’s been hard cutting out lots of good stuff. I hate long movies and I’ve made a long film, so I’m struggling a bit with the length right now.”

Jeff Bridges called the 2015 The Secret Service (grossing $400 million worldwide) the best James Bond movie he’d ever seen, so it was no problem snaring him to play the whiskey drinking cowboy named Champagne.

Old Forester’s distilling roots date back to 1870, ‘continuously sold before, during and after Prohibition’ boasts an enviable history. So it was a kind of slam dunk when Brown-Foreman shook hands with Vaughn, giving them the nod to distill, invent if you will, Statesman Old Forester whisky.

From Kentucky we turn our attention to the other liquid star of the film The GlenDronach The Kingsman 1991, and with The GlenDronach being a rather special drop that Rachel Barrie, master blender at the BenRiach Distillery Company, is particularly keen to share in her usual enthusiastic manner when we caught up with her.

Petite and dark-haired, Barrie sparkles with enthusiasm for her job and the liquid she works with, speaking in an effusive, poetic manner.

“When Matthew Vaughn [the director] selected the 1991 vintage I was in two minds,” she explains, as we nurse our drams in the atmospheric vaulted cellars of Berry Bros & Rudd, one of the locations for the film. “My first though was, ‘But we’ve not got very much stock! Can you not choose another year?’ There wasn’t much left. It’s one of our rarest vintages. Many distilleries cut back production in 1991, and some were mothballed, before they began to increase again in mid-1992.
Looking across the Ohio River to downtown Louisville, 'Bourbon capital'
Looking across the Ohio River to downtown Louisville, 'Bourbon capital'
The stillhouse at GlenDronach
The stillhouse at GlenDronach
Rolling a cask outside GlenDronach Distillery
Rolling a cask outside GlenDronach Distillery
Master blender, Rachel Barrie
Master blender, Rachel Barrie
The Old Forester Statesman edition
The Old Forester Statesman edition