Drink of the Week: Born Yesterday (TCM Fest Salute #3)

Born Yesterday. Hey, it’s Cinco de Mayo. Yeah, I know, I just realized it myself! So, no South of the Border-themed drink today, but seriously, have a classic style margarita on me. They’re great. Now on to the real celebration for this cinebuff, my salute to #TCMFest2017…

Directed by George Cukor and reportedly adapted by original playwright Garson Kanin (with a little help from wife Ruth Gordon), “Born Yesterday” is the kind of movie that my mother and I loved but which cinephiles often ignore. Perfectly rendered stage play adaptations might get multiple Oscar nominations and ecstatic reviews the year they’re released, but as time marches on, film snobs have a way of playing down most movies where the word threatens to be more important than the image.

I’m sure a few may also resent “Born Yesterday” in particular because co-star Judy Holiday won the Best Actress Oscar for it against both Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and Bette Davis in “All About Eve.” It might seem shocking to some, but Ms. Holiday’s performance entirely deserved to be in the same ballpark with those two legendary heavy-hitters. And so does the film as a whole. Seeing “Born Yesterday” again for the first time in probably a couple of decades, I was surprised to find not just a well-rendered, literate and often hilarious rom-com (such things were once relatively common!) but also a sharp satire that is, if anything, almost excruciatingly relevant to our time.

See if the plot rings any bells for you: Billie Dawn (Judy Holiday) is the blonde trophy fiancee of a thuggish, ignorant, incurious junk dealer turned steel tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford), who’s headed to Washington, D.C. to make himself really, really rich by making a shady deal or two with what we now would call Beltway insiders. Harry thinks he knows plenty about the way Washington works, but he decides his gal could use a little educatin’. His solution: hire ace political reporter Paul Verrall (William Holden) to give Billie enough of the Washington basics that her ignorance doesn’t stand out so much. As you might expect, Billie really does learn a lot, including that relatively obvious fact that her teacher is a vastly better catch than her current attachment.

As was mentioned in the TCM Fest introduction by entertainment writer Tara McNamara, Garson Kanin saw Billie Dawn as a metaphorical stand-in for the American people. We might sport a kind of light and easy, ignorant cynicism about politics, but we basically have no understanding of its true importance. At the same time, however, Billie is anything but stupid and has plenty of inherent decency — it just takes a little education and some time with a person who actually respects her as a human to turn a stereotype into a minor heroine of American democracy.

Okay, I know our own current political nightmare won’t be solved by setting up Melania Trump with Jake Tapper, but check out this line, uttered by William Holden’s reporter character, that caused the TCM Fest to break out in spontaneous applause: “I want everyone to be smart. I want ’em to be as smart as they can be. A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.”

And what of the Born Yesterday cocktail? We start with the most innocent of non-cocktail cocktails, the Shirley Temple, which is simply lemon-lime soda (7-Up or Sprite, usually) and a bit of grenadine. However, since this is a tale of maturation — and a cocktail blog, of course — we need to add a more grown-up and world-aware beverage to the drink. Since Billie Dawn and company seem to favor Scotch, I made it Scotch. Finally, add egg whites for whatever symbolic meaning they might have in terms of a rebirth and to make this drink a really delicious member of the fizz family of great American cocktails. See what you think.

Born Yesterday

2 ounces Scotch whisky
1 large egg white (or 3 tablespoons of packaged egg white)
1 teaspoon grenadine
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon-lime soda
1 cocktail cherry (optional garnish, mainly for recreating childhood memories)

Combine the Scotch, egg white, grenadine and bitters in a cocktail shaker. First, “dry shake” without ice to emulsify the egg white, and then add ice and shake some more. Strain into a very well-chilled but not too big Tom Collins or highball glass. Add the cocktail cherry, if you’ve got one, and then carefully top off with your lemon-lime soda. Don’t add it too quickly, because you’ll be getting a good head of foam. That’s what makes a fizz a fizz. As you sip, contemplate the reality that knowledge might take work to acquire, but it really can add a lot of fun and sweetness to life.

******

I love “Born Yesterday” the movie, but I also love this drink. It’s incredibly refreshing and sweet but, at least in my favorite version, not overpoweringly so. You can still taste the Scotch, and we cocktailians like drinks that don’t hide the alcohol too much. It’s also potent enough to be taken seriously. It’s definitely my favorite of the drinks that I’ve concocted for this year’s fest so far, and it’s probably one of my favorite creations

On to brands. As you might have guessed, 7-Up and Sprite work equally well here, and I can’t imagine that any decent lemon-lime soda would be inferior to a gourmet one. My 7-Up was actually hecho en Mexico (happy Cinco de Mayo!), which means it has cane sugar instead of corn syrup. I’ll let you decide whether or not that made a detectable difference in my drink, because I’m definitely unsure.

My choice of Scotch brands, however, was a matter of some definite import. Plain ol’ Dewars was my go-to booze for this drink, and it was great. Just enough of that usual astringent/slightly smokey Scotch flavor seemed to be a truly outstanding counterpoint to the sweetness of the grenadine and 7-Up and the milkiness of the egg white.

However, since Dewars is one of those brands that used to be “the good stuff” but is now more of a base-level quality booze you might find at your drunken uncle’s place, I wanted to try something more high-end in my grown-up Shirley Temple. My choice was Monkey Shoulder, a perfectly delightful but not so terribly expensive premium Scotch that a Bev-Mo employee turned me on to. Since it advertises itself as a highly mixable product — and I wouldn’t contradict that in general — you might think it would be an improvement. However, some of that mixability may be that it’s significantly sweeter than is typical for Scotch, which makes it great for drinking on the rocks or with soda but was a little too sweet for my Born Yesterday. It just wasn’t the same.

That could be the end of the tale, but since the movie that inspired the drink celebrates democracy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that my in-house guinea pig disagreed with my assessment pretty strongly. This relative cocktail newbie found the Dewars version of the drink, to my horror, unremarkable; his choice was the sweeter Monkey Shoulder version. So maybe do the small-d democratic thing and try both.

  

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>