While the USSR had a complicated relationship with art (to say the least), one form of cultural production that the state endorsed with enthusiasm was Swan Lake featuring a dramatic score penned by Russian composer par excellence Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Stalin saw the ballet dozens of times, establishing a precedent his successors embraced exponentially. Nikita Khrushchev once confided to a Bolshoi dancer that he had seen the state-sponsored Swan Lake so often that the thought of having to see it again made him ill. In light of this nationalistic Soviet fascination with Tchaikovsky’s work, it’s not surprising that KGB agent Pola Ivanova exclaims the composer’s name with orgasmic gusto during her “detente” with James Bond in A View to a Kill (1985).
Bond and Ivanova’s triste takes place in the waning years of the Cold War, perhaps permitting a lighter touch when depicting the decades-old conflict between the capitalists and the commies. This mirrored Moore’s waning tenure as 007, which similarly may have allowed a more indulgent depiction of everyone’s favorite MI6 agent. The film is certainly one of the campiest of the franchise, but, to be fair, it would be hard to take a 57 year-old spy seriously (the actor later said he was “only about 400 years too old for the part”). While this fluffy fair has inspired vitriol in some Bond fans, there are many redeeming qualities to this 80s romp.
I was delighted to find that the hosts of my favorite podcast, Matt & Matt of James Bonding, shared my appreciation for a geriatric Bond, Grace Jones, and French private detective Achille Aubergine in their cross-over podcast with How Did This Get Made. When Craig and I had the opportunity to share some of our cocktails with the Matts, the crowd favorite cocktail from our A View to a Kill party was an obvious choice.
Inspired by the lighthearted cold war spy craft in the jacuzzi and Fiona Fullerton’s delivery of an incredible innuendo, our take on a vodka fizz, “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky,” started as one of the tougher cocktails to conceive in our series thus far, and pivoted to something we’re very, very proud of.
A Name in Search of a Drink
If you couldn’t tell from my indulgent introduction, I flipping love A View to a Kill and the hot tub scene holds a special place in my heart. The nostalgia dial is cranked up to eleven for me during that sequence, audio cassettes and all. So when it came to devising a cocktail for this film, we knew we wanted to pay homage to this whacky line if we could, but all we had was…bubbles?
We had already done a champagne cocktail for Live and Let Die, but figured one more couldn’t hurt; can’t have too much of a good thing. I started down a road of trying to play on the California setting of the film by looking for ingredients I associate with the golden state that might pair nicely with bubbly vino. I’m constantly trying to work one of my favorite liqueurs into our drinks, Iris liqueur by Elixir Craft Spirits. Iris has this great floral quality, which seemed to fit the film’s San Francisco setting. The botanical flavor screams Pacific Northwest, as Kathy Casey’s NW Vesper cocktail demonstrates nicely.
My first attempts at combining Iris with sparkling white wine included lime and cointreau for some reason, and have lots of encouraging remarks scribbled next to the recipe notes like “gross” and “undrinkable.” I liked the floral quality of the drink, but just couldn’t find a way to marry the flavors.
The San Francisco Cocktail
Meanwhile, Craig went down his own rabbit hole. While the Manhattan may be the preeminent American cocktail named after its city of origin, our research led us to another classic cocktail taking its name from The City. According to Brian McGregor’s research, the earliest reference to the “San Francisco” cocktail was published in London in 1937 in the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book and includes the recipe: Equal parts sloe gin, dry vermouth, and sweet vermouth, along with dashes of orange bitters and Angostura bitters.
Craig was smitten with this idea in honor of San Francisco’s role in A View to a Kill and found it a ripe opportunity to feature sloe gin on one of our menus. Sloe gin isn’t really gin perse; it’s more akin to a liqueur with strong notes of plum. Craig and I are both big fans of Hayman’s gin, so their variety of this cardinal-colored cordial seemed like the obvious place to start.
While I battled sparkling wine to introduce bubbles, Craig attempted introducing egg whites and aquafaba (chickpea-soaked water that can serve as a vegan protein alternative to egg whites) to many drafts of his San Francisco riff. After burning through two full bottles of sloe gin, countless vermouth pairings, and many hangovers, Craig’s experiments were not yielding results. Our concepts felt muddled, overburdened, and amiss.
As our self-imposed deadline of a cocktail party loomed and neither of us were getting very far, we began to question our inspiration altogether.
May Day May Day May Day
Many of our drink concepts draw from unique variations on tropes and key ingredients every Bond film shares. One such go-to is the role of “henchman,” an enforcer for the often more hands-off, intellectual villain. Henchmen—Oddjob, Jaws, Baron Samedi, and even Nick Nack—are arguably the most memorable characters of the franchise. My personal favorite very well maybe May Day in A View to a Kill.
Played by the indomitable Grace Jones, May Day’s onscreen presence is indebted to the performer's offscreen persona. Jones was a major player in the New York “downtown” art scene of the 70s and 80s (her tardy attendance to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver’s wedding is among the more tame anecdotes from this time period). Andy Warhol’s portrait of Jones is in the Tate’s permanent collection, her long running collaboration with Jean Paul Goude yielded incredibly striking covers to her albums, and she was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe after Keith Haring painted her body. All of these portraits demonstrate Ms. Jones’ powerful presence, physique, and stellar modeling ability. Her star quality is clearly evoked in every image, true for her role in A View to a Kill as well. She manages to steal scenes even when up against the ultimate scenery chewer, Christopher Walken.
While Grace Jones has already had more than one cocktail named after her (one of which is over $14K a glass), we ventured to create another to pay homage to the most 80s henchwoman ever. In reference to Grace Jones’ Studio 54 days, I sought to riff on a Manhattan for the May Day cocktail. We created a coffee-infused sweet vermouth using 1 teaspoon NoVo coffee and 6 oz Carpano Antica Formula, and initially paired that with Rye Whiskey. I tried adding Campari, twisting the drink into a Boulevardier, but the bitterness of the Campari didn’t really play well with the coffee infused Antica.
Having sampled many of Craig’s attempts to incorporate sloe gin into a cocktail, I was weary when he reached for the bottle to complicate this straightforward coffee-infused Manhattan. Keeping things simple in a cocktail is always a good rule of thumb, but you can’t know if you’ve taken it too far unless you push the limit. Since Craig was particularly invested in this ingredient, and since an unembellished cocktail doesn’t really fit View’s ethos, we tried packing a bit of sloe gin into an otherwise unassuming cocktail. Much to my surprise the elements played together nicely in what turned out to be a vermouth forward twist on a whiskey cocktail.
Recipe: May Day
1 ounce Rittenhouse 100 Rye
1 ounce Coffee Bean-Infused Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
½ ounce Hayman's Sloe Gin
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish Maraschino Cherry
Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Infusion: 1 teaspoon coffee beans per 6 oz of Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
Keeping Things Russian
Having achieved a delicious recipe for the May Day, we were still without a drink to honor one of our favorite quotes in the franchise. “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky” still begged to come to life. With the San Francisco cocktail too closely resembling the Manhattan riff we had made and having found a home for all the sloe gin we had been drinking in the May Day, it no longer made sense to chase the San Francisco cocktail concept.
This liberated us to go back to the drawing board altogether and change the base spirit in the drink. With Pola Ivanova as a prominent Russian presence, vodka was a natural choice. We tried a few sparkling wine and vodka combinations with little success. Realizing no champagne or sparkling wine played a role in the hot tub scene, we comfortably abandoned vino in favor of a vodka fizz format. When toiling on the San Francisco concept, aquafaba proved easier to work with than egg whites at scale and its vegan qualities both felt safer for crowds and felt fitting for the San Francisco inspiration. After a preliminary draft with vodka, aquafaba, simple syrup, and club soda, we knew we were onto something profound (and yet decidedly simple).
While Iris did not play as well as we would have hoped, we still wanted to keep the floral qualities of earlier drafts. After less than ideal experiments with brown butter-washed vodka and thyme infused vodka, infusing vodka with lavender proved especially easy and delicious. Adding elderflower notes through St-Germain took it up another notch. A few drafts later, “The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky” came to life and quickly became one of our most popular cocktails (the sum total of these drinks ordered at our A View to a Kill party drained 3.5 liters of lavender-infused vodka alone)
Recipe: The Bubbles Tickle My Tchaikovsky
1 ½ ounces Lavender-Infused Stolichnaya Vodka
1 ounce Aquafaba
½ ounce St-Germain
½ ounce Simple Syrup
½ ounce Lemon Juice
Garnish Peychaud’s Bitters
Dry shake all the ingredients (except the club soda and bitters), then fill the shaker with ice and shake until the tin is almost too cold to hold. Pour the club soda into a collins glass, then double strain the cocktail on top. Garnish with drops of Peychaud's Bitters.
Infusion: 1/4 cup of dried lavender per 750ml vodka for 30 minutes.