A-List alcohol: Five pop culture moments that changed our drinks of choice
From Homer Simpson’s Duff Beer to Don Draper’s penchant for an Old Fashioned, booze is a major pop-culture staple, whether it’s a focal point of the plot or simply a way to flesh out a character.
However, certain beverages have done more than that, transcending the boundaries of fiction and actively influencing the preferences of those of us in the real world. Here are five times pop culture changed our drink of choice.
Sideways – Pinot Noir and Merlot
“It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental,” says Sideways’ Miles Raymond of his favourite wine, Pinot Noir. And the protagonist’s passion for Pinot has done wonders for its popularity, a trend called “The Sideways Effect.” In an interview for NPR.org, winemaker Billy Dim commented that the 2004 movie highlighted the variety “as the pinnacle of complexity”, while wine industry analyst Gabriel Froymovich added that Pinot Noir production in California has increased by approximately 170% since Sideways was released.
As well as bolstering Pinot Noir’s reputation, the flick has also been blamed for another wine falling out of fashion, thanks to another line from Miles: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f**king Merlot.” A US study looking at changes in the demand for Merlot and Pinot Noir wines concluded that its results were “consistent with the theory that ‘Sideways’ had a negative impact on the consumption of Merlot”, mainly slowing the growth of case volume. Ironically, Mile’s prized bottle of Château Cheval Blanc is in fact a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
James Bond – Martinis (shaken, not stirred)
Six parts vodka and one part vermouth, 007’s drink of choice, as we all know, is a martini “shaken, not stirred”. Researchers writing a comedic 2013 Christmas paper noted this peculiarity: “Ideally, vodka martinis should be stirred, not shaken. That Bond would make such an elementary mistake in his preferences seemed incongruous with his otherwise impeccable mastery of culinary etiquette.”
What’s more, martinis were traditionally made with gin rather than vodka. But following Sean Connery’s appearance in Dr. No in 1962, the update became a hit. “Gin martinis you don’t want to shake because there’s a theory that it will bruise the gin as air gets in there and the ice dilutes the drink,” Tom Sisson, director of the New York Bartending School told Time. “Then Bond ordered a vodka martini, and with vodka, it doesn’t really matter if you shake it. So it didn’t take that long for sales of vodka martinis, shaken and not stirred, to go through the roof.”
Daniel Craig’s Bond moved away from this concoction when he ordered a Vesper—gin, vodka and Lillet Blanc—in 2006’s Casino Royale. However, Sisson believes this drink didn’t take off due to Lillet’s inaccessibility, as very few watering holes ever had it behind the bar.
Lost in Translation – Suntory Whisky
Though Suntory has been producing whisky in Japan since 1920, it achieved global fame following the release of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation in 2003. In the film, Bill Murray plays actor Bob Harris, who arrives in Tokyo to film an advert for the whisky brand, in which he declares: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”
The catchphrase quickly trickled into Western drinking culture. Recounting his experiences of requesting the beverage in LA after Lost in Translation’s release, Suntory’s brand ambassador told Men’s Journal in 2015 that: “You just have to say ‘Suntory time’ and they’ll pull (the whisky) from behind the counter.” Sadly, the Hibiki 17-year-old blend drunk by Bill Murray in the film was discontinued by Suntory in 2018.
The Big Lebowski – White Russians
The White Russian certainly didn’t have a particularly trendy reputation before The Dude came along. The Big Lebowski wasn’t very well received following its release in 1998, but it eventually went on to reach cult status, making the White Russian arguably the most recognisable cocktail in film history.
The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, drinks the vodka, coffee liqueur and cream concoction nine times during the course of the movie, stimulating interest in the White Russian that hadn’t been seen since the 1970s. “When I first encountered it in the 1970s, the White Russian was something real alcoholics drank, or beginners,” Esquire’s drinks correspondent, David Wondrich, told The New York Times. “Now, ordering the drink is ‘the mark of the hipster’.”
All around the world, there are bars dedicated to The Big Lebowski, of course serving the protagonist’s favourite drink, and people are still keen to learn how to make a White Russian The Dude would approve of.
Sex and the City – Cosmopolitans
Though Sex and the City became synonymous with Manolo Blahnik shoes, Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and Marlboro Lights, the most enduring symbol of the show is still the Cosmopolitan.
A favourite of the four main characters—Carrie Bradshaw famously tries to order a takeaway “cheeseburger, large fries and a Cosmopolitan”—this was the go-to girl’s night out cocktail during the show’s run from 1998 until 2004.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of Sex and the City and Us, explained to Refinery29 that the Cosmopolitan allowed regular women to sample a taste of the luxurious lifestyles led by Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, reasoning that “Even if it was a $20 Cosmo, it’s still better than $500 Manolos.” While Lauren Garroni, co-runner of the Every Outfit on SATC Instagram account, noted that just as James Bond’s martini became associated with masculinity, the Cosmopolitan was the female equivalent, “establishing these women as alphas in their world”.
The drink fell out of style as the programme left our screens, especially with mixologists keen to ditch the simplicity of a Cosmopolitan in favour of craft cocktails full of complexity and designed to challenge our taste buds. However, some believe we’re now on the brink of a Cosmo comeback. As beverage director Kyle Eberle commented, “No self-respecting mixologist will touch it, meaning it’s the perfect time for reinvention!”
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