I imagine you've all read the story by now. Yes, in Skyfall James Bond is going to be drinking beer as well as the usual Dom Pérignon '53 and his signature shaken-not-stirred cocktail, but it's not a British beer, and it's not even a decent beer: it's Heineken. Oh calamity!
Well, that's been the reaction from most commentators, journalists, blogerati and anyone else with access to a public forum and a spleen that needs venting. It's funny how this particular bit of product placement in a Bond film seems to have generated more opprobrium than just about any other I can remember, certainly more than whenever it's revealed that his car won't be an Aston Martin, a Jaguar or some other high-end British sports saloon. This brief interview has a few telling moments in it, not the least of which is Daniel Craig's roll of the eyes when Tom Brooks brings up the subject and the Bond fan's sneering and dismissive inflection on the word 'beer' when he says that it's something Bond doesn't drink. And as for that headline: "Is beer damaging 'brand Bond'?" Why, I nearly choked on my chalice of 25-year-old barrel-aged white stout, cask-conditioned in a solid gold Fabergé egg, dry-hopped with the scales from a mermaid's tail and infused with unicorn tears!
It's not hard to find other headlines in a similar vein: "James Bond just sold out: Daniel Craig swaps Vodka Martini for a bottle of Heineken to star in controversial new 007 beer ad"; "Ex-James Bond OUTRAGED Over Heineken Deal -- New 007's a Sellout!!!"; "James Bond sells out, takes his Heineken in a bottle" and so on and so forth, but is it the fact that he's drinking beer or the brand of beer that's causing such consternation? I've hardly been able to find a headline about this story that doesn't include the words 'sell' and 'out' or at least lean towards them with a heavy list to starboard. Are we looking at another manifestation of the prejudice that seems to be held against beer, compared to wine, spirits and cocktails?
By the way, did you know that there are other grades of British spy than the crème de la crème '00' agents (as in '007, licensed to kill'), and also that there's a descending severity of license? The level immediately below Bond would be '017, licensed to cause permanent disability'. Go down one more and we meet '027, licensed to inflict non-fatal major injuries including loss of a limb', continuing down to '067, licensed to cause compound fractures', and finally '097, licensed to cause minor cuts and superficial bruising concomitant with having been involved in a small scuffle'. True story.
It's not as if Bond hasn't drunk beer before (I think he drank Red Stripe in Dr. No), but the fact that it's Heineken and that it's been so heavily promoted has certainly raised a lot of eyebrows. Was there really no major British brewer who could find the £28 million ($45 million) that Heineken paid in order to put a bottle of their beer in 007's hand? How about Newcastle Brown? Bass? Well, Newcastle Brown isn't made in Newcastle any more and Bass isn't what it used to be, but come on, Bass is one of the most iconic British beers there's ever been, its red triangle even appearing in one of Édouard Manet's paintings... twice!
What about the traditional British beer? Probably not going to happen. I'm pretty confident that none of the small scale and family-owned brewers of cask-conditioned beer could come up with that kind of money, even if the filmmakers could find a scene to fit it into. A country pub and a glass of Marston's Owd Roger is a scene more fitting to Inspector Morse than James Bond. Different kind of character altogether. Bond just doesn't seem like the kind of man to drink pints, no matter how good or bad they are.
How about one of the newer, more American-influenced producers of craft beer such as BrewDog? Again, not really Bond's thing, although if they'd been approached by the film's producers I'm pretty sure James Watt and Martin Dickie would have moved heaven and earth to raise the cash that would enable them to get one of their beers into a Bond movie, and I reckon they'd have done their best to persuade said producers that a brand new, 007 themed and suitably named beer would be just the job. I'm equally confident that had they been rejected for the gig they'd have come up with another, just as suitably named beer to let their feelings about the situation be known, the same way they made an almost alcohol-free beer called Nanny State when criticised in the press for their high ABV brews.
No, I think we have to come to the conclusion that most British beers have the image of being a working man's (and woman's) drink well and truly slung around their pump handle, and are to be consumed in that people's palace we call the pub rather than the casino at Monte Carlo. They're not really something that would be enjoyed by the average hard-working and sophisticated secret service agent (except maybe for Agent 097 who's fresh out of spy school and looking for a good bar fight with which to hone his duffing-people-up-but-not-outside-the-remit-of-his-licence skills). I could see James Bond knocking back a Pilsner Urquell, any number of fine German lagers, even a Chimay or a Duvel, but not a pint of bitter, mild or brown ale.
And since the deal was announced it seems that popular opinion has also told us that Heineken is utterly infra dig as far as 007 is concerned, so when you go to see the film you might want to join in with this.