Drink of the Week: The Countess Tracy (TCM Fest Salute #3)

The Countess Tracy.If you head over to Bullz-Eye’s James Bond Fan Hub, you may notice that the writer behind the painfully in-depth explorations of the Sean Connery 007 films is the same guy bringing you these beverage recipes week after week. So, of course, when I attended this year’s TCM Fest, I was going to make it a priority to finally check out the 2012 restored version of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on the big screen.

Though originally regarded as something of a disappointment largely due to the replacement of Connery by George Lazenby, an unknown whose performance remains controversial (I’m not a huge fan), there is a small but growing community who argue it’s the best film in the entire series. My position is that it’s pretty great and very likely would have topped even “Goldfinger,” if only Connery had, in fact starred opposite the film’s actual leading lady, Diana Rigg, who very definitely is the greatest of all Bond girls.

Lazenby aside, OHMSS remains a mighty entertaining piece of work and by far the most faithful to any of the 007 novels, a most romantic and strangely melancholy tale for all its Bondian absurdity. (For more background information, feel free to check out my brother in Bondage Ross Ruediger’s fine ONHMSS exploration for Bullz-Eye.)

Today’s drink is devoted to easily the most complex and affecting leading lady in the Bond cannon so far. Teresa Draco, later the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, and ultimately simply Tracy Bond. Especially as played by Diana Rigg, Tracy is no mere Bond girl. No, for all her girlish beauty, she’s really a full-fledged Bond woman who is more than capable of saving a superspy’s life after he saves her from death by suicide in the film’s opening.

My liquid take on OHMSS and Tracy Bond is an homage and update to the Vesper, Ian Fleming and bartender Ivar Bryce’s tribute to the first of Bond’s lost loves from “Casino Royale.” And, yes, the Countess Tracy features bourbon, not gin. In the novels, Bond drank it probably more than anything else, and that meant he drank an awful lot of it.

The Countess Tracy

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce Campari
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
1/2 ounce Smirnoff 100 proof vodka
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and, yes, shake this drink vigorously and never, ever, stir it. Ian Fleming hated ALL stirred drinks and his smirky, snobbish ghost will haunt you forever should you ever consider stirring any drink remotely related to him.

Anyhow, once you’re done shaking your drink as if being chased by the nefarious twosome of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt, strain it into a chilled cocktail glass (coupe or standard martini style). Add the orange twist and toast Diana Rigg. The adorable and entirely first-rate actress who played Tracy and also, of course, the greatest of all filmic female superspies, Emma Peel.

****

I selected Basil Hayden’s bourbon because A. I had it in the house and B. It’s a damned fine bourbon of which I’m sure Bond and Fleming would have approved. Though named for an 18th century distiller, the brand wasn’t introduced until about three decades after Fleming’s untimely death. It was nevertheless featured, I understand, in the 2011 James Bond novel by Jeffery Deaver, Carte Blanche.

My selection of Campari was directly inspired by the choice of beverage of Tracy’s beloved father, benevolent criminal mastermind Marc-Ange Draco. In the movie (and the book, if memory serves), he drinks the very sweet/extremely bitter liqueur straight while serving Bond one of his shaken martinis.

Finally, the Lillet Blanc and the 100 proof vodka are pretty obviously ripped off from my explorations of the Vesper. I believe David Wondrich assumed the original Vesper used 100 proof Stolichnaya. I used Smirnoff because, well, it was in front of me. Today’s Lillet is apparently a fairly far cry from the Kina Lillet of Fleming’s day, and is one of the many reasons a modern-day Vesper needs to be modified a great deal to work properly. However, Lillet Blanc is a very lovely product in its own right, and it adds needed sweetness and light to the Countess Tracy.

As for the drink as a whole, I think I did good this time. It’s a bittersweet and very tasty tribute to the only woman, save Moneypenny, James Bond ever truly loved. Like Tracy, it’s refreshing and bold, with more than a hint of darkness. It’s a drink for which, you might say, I have all the time in the world.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Proud Rebel (TCM Fest Salute #2)

The Proud Rebel.I know from all too personal experience that creating a new cocktail is a lot easier than crafting a compelling film story. Yet, they’re not entirely dissimilar in that sometimes you need one final ingredient to bring everything together…even if that final ingredient is a bit of a cliche. Yes, just as the too-little known 1958 western/family drama “The Proud Rebel” kind of needed the slightly contrived gunfight that ends it to bring everything together for a satisfying conclusion, the cocktail it inspired in me never really became something to be proud of until I came up with the idea of topping the thing off with soda water. 0 points for originality, but I’d rather win ugly than not win at all.

I like my drink quite a bit but I like the recently restored and sincerely entertaining film I was lucky to see at this year’s TCM Fest even more. As a pretty obvious follow-up to 1953’s “Shane,” also starring Alan Ladd, “The Proud Rebel” doesn’t get a huge number of points as groundbreaking cinema but it’s big traditionalist heart more than makes for up for it.No disrespect to the great George Stevens, who I actually think is a better director than “Proud Rebel” helmer Michael Curtiz in many respects, but in this case I prefer the quasi-knock-off to the original.

The kicker here is that, instead of chatty Brandon de Wilde as the surrogate son of ex-gunfighter Shane, we have Mr. Ladd’s real-life son, David, forced to act almost entirely without words as the progeny of a former confederate soldier struck mute by the wartime death of his mother. The 10 year-old, who would eventually become a major Hollywood player as an executive and producer, performs brilliantly not only with his legendary dad, but the film’s equally formidable leading lady, Olivia de Haviland (“The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Gone with the Wind,” just for starters).

Oh, and there’s also a dog, played by two very convincing and charismatic canine performers (billed collectively as “King.”) And, yeah, I got choked up a couple of times. What’s it’s to you?

Sure, the movie has a somewhat disturbing undercurrent, as did many postbellum westerns, given that we’re told Alan Ladd character was once wealthy prior to the war and we all know what wealthy Southerners routinely did that, er, kinda sorta started the Civil War. Still, the drive of a father to help his son live a full life and the love of a boy for his dog pretty much transcends everything in a movie like this.

As for the drink, and yeah, there really is a drink buried in here, it’s kind of an Old Fashioned striking out out its own. This beverage lives up to it’s name. It does not back down and it takes care of what’s important.

The Proud Rebel

1 1/2 ounces Laird’s Applejack
1/2 ounce Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
1 teaspoon Southern Comfort
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1-2 ounces soda water
2 apple slices
1 dash aromatic bitters

Muddle an apple slice in a shaker, it might take a little bit of effort, but the more juice you get out of it, the better. Next, add all of the liquid ingredients, except for the carbonated water, together with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously, and strain — just once, no need for any highfalutin’ double straining — into a rocks glass with ice. Then, add your second apple slice as a garnish and top off with soda water, stirring gently. Toast the basic yet crucial ties that can, in a really good story, make themes as potentially bland as family ties and simple human decency enormously compelling.

****

I decided that applejack should make a return after being prominently featured in last week’s selection because, as I said last week, this might just be the most American of all base spirits…though many would certainly argue that rye or bourbon whiskey should have that honor. Splitting the difference, I’ve once again combined the two, this time spicing up my relatively mild blended 80 proof Laird’s with the 120 proof Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, which I happened to have on hand because of the kindly gods of PR who send me free stuff.

As I said above, adding the maple syrup, Southern Comfort, and crushed apple slice, made for an okay modification of an Old Fashioned…but just okay. It really needed an ounce or so of carbonated water to push the thing over the top. And it fits the movie, too. Because Alan Ladd’s character really is a proud guy, too proud at times. And fizzy water is proud, too? Right? Well, it’s fizzy.

  

Drink of the Week: The Egg (TCM Fest Salute #1)

The Egg.Yes, it’s time for another four-part  salute to the just now bygone Turner Classic Movies Festival of 2015. For the second year in a row, I’ll be presenting cocktails of my own creation inspired by some of the amazing films I saw this year. (If you’re interested in last year’s selections, start here and work your way backwards.)

We’re starting with a drink inspired by the restoration I was personally most anxious to see, not because it’s a particularly well made film but because it’s such a strong piece of material that all producer Jack L. Warner had to do was buy a Broadway show lock stock and barrel, including all of the original cast, and just throw it up on the screen, which is pretty much exactly what happened.

I speak of 1972’s film version of”1776,” a musical which began with and odd conceit by history teacher turned Brill Building songwriter Sherman Edwards. It suggested that a play about the creation and signing of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence should involve singing and some fairly broad comedy along with the more serious history lesson. It’s a childhood favorite I (and a bunch of my friends, for some reason) have carried on into adulthood, and it seems like the perfect inspiration for a drink that’s as messy as our nation’s history. It’s basically a flip, a drink as old school as it gets, while being more than a bit radical in terms of its many ingredients.

Yes, I’ve found yet another excuse to make a drink using the world’s most delightfully controversial cocktail ingredient. That’s because today’s drink takes it’s name from my favorite song in “1776,” which compares to the birth of a nation to the birth of it’s national bird…and you know where little birds come from.

The Egg

3/4 ounce Laird’s Applejack
3/4 ounce 1776 Rye Whiskey
1/2 ounce Cherry Herring
1/2 ounce Cynar
1 teaspoon cherry syrup (Torani)
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup (Torani)
1 whole egg
3-4 drops Peychaud’s Bitters (important garnish)

Combine the egg and all the liquid ingredients other than the bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice to emulsify the egg. Add lots of ice and shake again, much more vigorously this time. Strain into a chilled wine glass. Wait for just a moment as a small cap of foam will appear at the top of the glass. Add 3-4 drops of bright red Peychaud’s Bitters to the top for color. Toast the many flavors that comprise this problematic but fabulous country.

*******

Now, on to the ingredients. Rye, perhaps even more than bourbon, is probably the most authentically North American whiskey and, well, I simply couldn’t ignore the highly coincidental brand name, 1776. Applejack, basically American-style apple brandy, was largely forgotten until recently but it’s the quintessential early American spirit. A version of it was made and sold by no less than George Washington himself. (Yes, General Washington had little to do with the declaration and is not physically present in the play or film “1776,” but he nevertheless plays an important off-screen/off-stage role.)

The rest of my selections here take their cue from the fact that Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson was a farmer who was personally quite partial to vegetables and fruit over meats and such. Cynar is a bittersweet liqueur that’s well known to the cocktail cognoscenti as being derived from artichokes, which were grown at Jefferson’s Monticello along with, you guessed it, raspberries and cherries. Peychaud’s bitters were selected largely for their bright red/pink color but also because they hail from the city of New Orleans, circa 1830. That capital of cocktailing was, of course, acquired for our great nation a few decades after 1776 by President Jefferson as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase

Now, I readily admit that there’s nothing in particular in my drink that represents John Adams, the actual protagonist of “1776,” or the great sage and comedy relief of the piece, Benjamin Franklin. Yet, if you dare to try this drink out for yourself — and I think you really should — you’ll find a lively and enjoyable debate going on in your tongue, and these were three men who all definitely had their own distinctive points of view. Unfettered debate, with or without rancor, is the very heart of this nation at its best and, this time, I think it’s also the heart of a good drink. I’ll also say that there is no way on earth this drink would work were it not for the unifying factor of the whole egg, which can paper over a million gustatory conflicts.

If you try the Egg and hate it, well, that’s okay. We can’t win every argument. And maybe the dove or the turkey really should have been our national bird. To find out what I mean, observe the mastery of William Daniels as John Adams, Ken Howard as Jefferson, and the late, great Howard da Silva as Franklin, as they discuss the matter at hand

  

Drink of the Week: The Brainstorm

the Brainstorm.So, last week we began my two-part penance for missing my St. Patrick’s Day cocktail window. Today’s drink is supposed to be the direct descendant of Alternative Ulster, but to me it’s really a completely different thing. Less sweet, more sophisticated and boozy.

The Brainstorm is definitely of the classic age of cocktails. A version  appears in 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book. David Wondrich, from whom I  completely stole this week’s recipe, calls it a drink of “obscure but venerable origins.” In others words, we know it’s pretty old, but we don’t know a hell of a lot else.

Still, this is a very decent concoction for anyone who likes their Irish whiskey not too dressed up, but isn’t quite up for a straight shot with a Guiness chaser. On the other hand, I have no idea why this drink is called a brainstorm, as I find it quiets the mind nicely.

The Brainstorm

2 ounces Irish whiskey
1/2 tablespoon Benedictine
1/2 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 orange twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the Irish whiskey, Benedictine (a very sweet liqueur whose ingredients are known only to an order of monks and the deity they worship), and dry vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Note, I didn’t say “cocktail shaker or mixing glass” as I usually do because, for some reason, Wondrich — who, like the majority of cocktail purists, ordinarily disdains shaking anything not containing citrus or other fresh ingredients lest it cloud the final result — states we should shake this particular drink, pretty much without explanation. So, for pity’s sake, shake this drink.

Then, as per usual, strain it into a chilled martini style glass or cocktail coupe. Add your orange twist. You may then toast your favorite Irish authors. For me it’s a battle between George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, but if you go with Oscar Wilde, I won’t object.

****

I tried this one with the last of my bottle of Bushmills, as well as Kilbeggan and Concannon. I’d give a very slight edge to the milder tasting Bushmills on this drink but, really, every iteration came out fairly similar. More dry than sweet, almost forbidding, but a very respectable and serious cocktail overall. I tried boosting the Benedictine and Martini dry vermouth, as some recipes suggest, but that didn’t improve the drink. The Brainstorm wants to be dry.

I should also add that there are numerous versions of the Brainstorm that very so radically as to be almost completely different cocktails, including many with rye and bourbon. I’m sure those may be pretty good, but they’re aren’t particularly Irish, are they?

  

Drink of the Week: Alternative Ulster

Alternative Ulster.As I noted towards the end of last week’s post, I tragically missed St. Patrick’s Day this year. That’s sort of unfortunate since it’s probably the U.S.A.’s second biggest drinking holiday following New Year’s, though here in the Southwestern edge of the United States, Cinco de Mayo might be bigger. (Or not. I’m a cocktail blogger, not a demographer, damnit!)

In any case, I am attempting to make amends with a pair of posts featuring Irish whiskey. Considering that it’s smoother, sweater and less smokey than its Scottish cousin, it’s a bit of mystery to me why there aren’t more popular cocktails featuring this mythic force behind one of the world’s most fascinating nations and peoples. It’s time to do my part to make up for that sad fact.

Today’s cocktail is actually a variation on a classic cocktail we’ll be exploring next week, the Brainstorm. I started with the latter day version, though, because it features Amaro Montenegro. I got to enjoy this popular European liqueur thanks to a gift from a wise and good friend some time ago — and I had just barely enough left to use it in one more cocktail, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve only used it for a DOTW once before. That’s because the bittersweet orangey member of the amaro family of liqueurs is much to my liking with just a little bit of soda water or on the rocks. If you enjoy Aperol, and boy do I ever, definitely give this one a try.

As I learned via Kindred Cocktails, Alternative Ulster was developed by New York bartender Joshua Perez. It appears to have borrowed it’s name from the punk rock anthem by Northern Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers, or perhaps the now defunct music magazine that also borrowed it’s name.

It’s a lively and simple little cocktail that’s fairly bracing and balanced between the sweet and bitter, as befits its Irish and pop-punk rock heritage. I like it and maybe you will, too.

Alternative Ulster

1 1/2 ounces Irish whiskey
3/4 ounce Amaro Montenegro
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Either stir vigorously or shake and strain into a well-chilled coupe or martini-style cocktail glass. Add your lemon twist and enjoy.

As for the toast, why not salute Northern Irish peace? When I was kid, solving “the troubles” was often compared to Middle East peace in terms of difficulty. Yet, this April the world will be celebrating the 17th anniversary of the 1998 agreements that really did seem to end this much too lengthy near civil war. Maybe someday, probably not any time too soon, I fear, we can have some similar luck of the Irish in other places where hatred and fear still seems to rule. It’s worth drinking to.

****

While Mr. Perez’s original recipe suggests using Jameson Irish whiskey and Dolin’s dry vermouth, I didn’t have either of those on hand. Instead I used Martini for my vermouth and three different brands of demon whiskey: Bushmills, Kilbeggan, and Concannon. All three worked fine, though I lean slightly more in favor of the results that I got using the latter two brands. They had a bit more bite to them, leading to tangier final products.

Also, though I usually lean towards shaking over stirring, this time I think bartender Perez perhaps had it right by suggesting stirring this drink. Don’t ask me why, but it just seemed to come out every so slightly better that way. Just make sure you stir a lot and make sure your glass is very thoroughly chilled.

And now, this is the time at Drink of the Week when we pogo.

 

  

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