Interview with Edmund Weil
To celebrate the publication of Shaken: Drinking with James Bond and Ian Fleming, we interview one of the contributors to the book, Edmund Weil.
Capitalising on the success of their celebrated London speakeasies Nightjar and Oriole, husband and wife team Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson, joined forces with bar industry legends Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson in 2016 to open Bar Swift in Soho. It achieved early renown, picking up the Time Out Best New Bar award in its first year and continues to go from strength to strength. Bobby and Mia are the brains behind the new James Bond and Ian Fleming inspired cocktails in Shaken and Edmund has written an introduction to each drink. As a distant relative of Ian Fleming, Edmund presents each cocktail with knowledge and passion for both the literary connection and the art of mixology. Here we talk to him about how the project came together and what makes the perfect cocktail.
How did you first get involved in the world of speakeasies?
My wife Rosie and I have always loved vintage style and music; that was always going to be the basis for our dream of opening a bar. Our first bar, Nightjar, was also located underground with an unassuming doorway between a café and a chicken shop, so the concept of a hidden bar really lent itself to the space. Luckily the drinking public at the time were also very taken by the speakeasy concept and the craft cocktail revolution, so it became very popular very quickly.
One of the aspects of this book we are most proud of is the amount detail there is behind each drink, a thing that Fleming himself was particular about in his own books. Where did your passion for creating the perfect cocktail come from?
There’s no way we could have made these cocktails without an excellent brief, the selection of passages from the books and the names and themes selected by Ian Fleming Publications made it a real pleasure to research and execute the cocktail creation and write them up. In my experience it is much easier to create the perfect cocktail with a clear framework; whether it’s a theme for a menu, or thinking about a very particular clientele, or as in this case a literary inspiration.
All of your bars, Nightjar, Oriole and Swift are named after birds. What was the inspiration behind this theme?
My grandfather, who was Ian Fleming’s cousin, had a great passion for birds and passed that on to me. It was very interesting to learn while researching this book that this passion was shared by Ian Fleming himself. His descriptions of nature (and birds in particular) are rivalled only by his descriptions of food and drink.
How do you think drinking habits have changed from Ian Fleming’s day in the 1950s up to now?
By the 1950s the first golden age of the cocktail was already on the wane. Prohibition, followed by the 2nd World War, had eroded much of the cocktail knowledge and finesse that had built up during the Belle Epoque. Fleming, on the other hand, was a greater connoisseur than most. Some of his preferred methods are a little unorthodox by today’s standards (you won’t find too many bartenders shaking their martinis for instance!). Perhaps the biggest societal change however is quantity; if you look at Bond’s alcohol consumption over the timeframes of the novels it works out at about 92 units per week! Today’s drinkers are as a rule more abstemious and more discerning, which means that creating special but responsible drinking experiences for guests is the biggest challenge for bar operators.
Do you have a favourite literary Bond character?
Tiger Tanaka. The ultimate badass.
And a favourite Bond novel?
Casino Royale – it is the grittiest and most realistic of the Bond novels (he even falls in love!). I love the vividness of the gambling scenes and Vesper Lynd is a fantastic Femme Fatale.
There are fifty cocktails to choose from in this book. For readers giving cocktail-making a first try, which cocktail would you suggest they make?
For a beginner, the Moneypenny is an excellent choice. A rose and cucumber-tinted Collins, it’s refreshing and easy on the palate, but still has enough flavour elements to turn someone on to the joy of mixing drinks.
Which cocktail do you think would best suit a party?
Without doubt the Old Man’s Thing. Adapted from a punch that Ian Fleming would serve to his guests at Goldeneye, it is a delicious classic rum punch with a theatrical element in the flaming float of overproof rum.
Which cocktail from the book is your personal favourite?
It is very hard to pick a favourite but I am a sucker for ‘stirred down and brown’ drinks with pungent flavours, so the Trueblood is high on the list. It’s based around barrel proof blended Japanese whisky, with strong support coming from Campari, crème de dassis and sweet vermouth. The perfect after-dinner digestif.
What do you believe makes the perfect cocktail?
The perfect cocktail must have excellent ingredients, which need to be mixed in harmony and balance. With some ingredients (especially pungent amari) even a few drops can change the balance of a drink completely. Likewise it is often the simplest of drinks in which that harmony is hardest to attain. That’s why I would advise any budding cocktail-maker to always taste their drinks before serving. This gives the chance to rebalance the drink if it is off.