Drink of the Week: Jezebel (TCM Fest 2017 Salute #1)

Jezebel.Yes, it’s time once again for our annual salute to classic cinema and this year’s TCM Film Fest. The 2017 edition was a bittersweet affair this year due to the passing of the network’s universally beloved host, Robert Osborne. Mr. Osborne was a unique figure in the annals of cinephiles and movie buffs in that, though he never looked old enough for this to be true, he had begun his career as an actor in the old studio contract system of Hollywood’s classic-era heyday. So, I guess we should go ahead and dedicate the first of our cocktails to him.

We’ll start with the first film I caught this year, William Wyler’s 1938 “Jezebel,” starring Bette Davis as a fiery, self-centered belle who manages to muck everything up between her and fiancĂ© Henry Fonda with her acts of wanton rebellion. On the one hand, there’s no getting around the idea that Davis’ character is set-up as an antiheroine not so different from Scarlet O’Hara of “Gone with the Wind” fame, a role many fans felt was tailor made for Davis. (This film was regarded as something of a consolation prize, though it’s quite possibly the better film.) On the other hand, looking at things through a more contemporary and more feminist lens, it’s really about a woman driven to assert some power in a world ruled by males, who start all the wars and make all the rules.

When she finally breaks one rule too many, it’s by wearing a red dress to a ball. Yup, in pre-bellum New Orleans, an unmarried woman wearing a red dress in public was enough to start a chain of events that could lead to death for anyone foolish enough to take a strong position on the lady’s honor. It was really the worst thing in the world to wear that dress. And, yeah, these people all own slaves. So much for priorities.

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Drink of the Week: The Rose

The Rose.Perhaps the rarest of all experiences in my cocktailian explorations is discovering a new base spirit to build mixed drinks around. After all, most of us who drink to any extent have made at least a passing acquaintance with vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila, gin and brandy, and usually in about that order. With cocktails, you basically start out with at least some knowledge of most of the basic building blocks, so it’s definitely a kick to find a strong liquor that isn’t one of these.

This week’s drink is built around kirschwasser, also called kirsch. I first learned of its existence at a pretty advanced age the first time I saw Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s masterpiece of English cinema, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.” If you’ve seen it — and you probably haven’t, so go use your Amazon Prime membership to correct that error now! — you’ll remember that career soldiers Clive “Sugar” Candy (Roger Livesey) of Great Britain and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) of Germany bond over kirshwasser during a series of increasingly cordial social meetings in the company of their respective ladyfriends.

Given the genteel setting, I always assumed that kirsch was a sweet but complex cherry brandy that was more like a cherry liqueur. In fact, it’s a species of what’s called eau de vie, unaged fruit brandies. It’s no sweeter than whiskey or cognac and pretty strong stuff — one of the brands I used for this was 90 proof — but the cherry notes are definitely there. The Rose is a classic cocktail featuring kirsch that’s appeared in a number of early cocktail texts, including “The Savoy Cocktail Book” and the revivalist booze bible, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Having now tried it many times, I honestly can’t tell you why this drink is less popular than a martini or a Manhattan except for the fact that most of us have never even heard of its most important ingredient.

Let’s start changing that now.

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Drink of the Week: The Park Avenue Cocktail

The Park Avenue Cocktail.So many cocktails appear to be named after tony locales, and the Park Avenue Cocktail fits right in with that. Though it’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York City, and I can’t conjure an image of the street, it does appear to play host to some of the biggest corporate powers extant: Bristol Meyers, Major League Baseball and Deutsche Bank among others are located there. Make of that what you will.

As for the drink’s history, while it’s featured in Ted Haigh’s epochal “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” there’s no particular story to tell, though Haigh wonders why the tropical touch of pineapple juice came to be associated with a seat of wealth and power. I haven’t a clue, but I do know this is a nice, simple drink that’s got plenty of mass appeal and is pretty hard (though not impossible) to mess up. It’s also potent enough that you might not need a second one.

The Park Avenue Cocktail

2 ounces dry gin
3/4 ounce pineapple juice
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 teaspoons orange curacao

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Drink of the Week: The Classic Cocktail

The Classic Cocktail.Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Moving on, I must admit that I’ve been a bit distracted to the point where it only just occurred to me after finishing this post that it would go live on America’s second biggest drinking holiday. I honestly can’t say that there’s anything remotely Irish about it, but I suppose you could try it with Irish Whiskey instead of brandy. No one’s stopping you!

Anyhow, it’s not an original thought of mine that the name of this week’s drink invites “Who’s on first?”-style comic confusion. After all, this blog is largely devoted to the kind of drinks from the past that have been slowly but steadily gaining an increasing foothold throughout the early days of this still young century. Still, when we’re talking about the Classic Cocktail, we’re not talking about the classic cocktail but a classic cocktail, if you follow me.

Like last week’s DOTW, the Classic Cocktail comes to us originally from Harry Craddock’s depression era mixed drink ur-text, “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” as filtered through founding cocktailian Gary Regan’s 2003 “The Joy of Mixology.” However, I’m much more found of this week’s entry, which is a bit more elaborate but also tastier. It could also easily be thought of as something of a souped-up Sidecar. It’s definitely a very nice variation on the theme. See what you think.

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Drink of the Week: The Claridge Cocktail

The Claridge Cocktail.I stumbled over this week’s beverage in Gary Regan’s “The Joy of Mixology,” but it’s original source is the oft-cited-here “The Savoy Cocktail Book” by Harry Craddock. Since Craddock was the bartender at London’s Savoy Hotel, and the Claridge had been the Savoy’s super-swank rival before Savoy owner Richard D’Oyly-Carte had purchased it, we can assume it must have once been some kind of house drink at the hotel. Even so, it’s not on the Claridge’s bar menu circa 2017, where a typical house beverage will run you some 19 British pounds. (That’s over $23.34 American at current exchange rates.)

Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised, as this drink is a bit simple and sweet for the tastes of today’s demanding cocktailians, much less the guests at a five-star hotel said to be preferred by the aristocratic set. Still, I think it’s one that’s worth trying out for yourself. It’s not bad and some people will love it. See what you think.

The Claridge Cocktail

1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce apricot brandy
1/2 ounce triple sec, Cointreau, or Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao

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