Drink of the Week: The Quiet Man (TCM Fest Salute #3)

This is part three of our salute to the TCM Classic Film Fest (see parts one and two here and here). This week, a quandary was solved by my realization that the annual double-act of drinking related arguable holidays, Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo, are just about upon us, though I’m afraid the Mexican-American holiday is going to get short shrift este año.

I was struggling with another drink when it occurred to me suddenly that the film I’d planned to cover the final week of my salute, John Ford’s ultimate two-fisted romantic comedy, “The Quiet Man,” was also perfect for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. That’s because, like nearly all John Ford films, strong drink features prominently and there’s an exciting horse race scene, though it tends to overshadowed by the film’s legendary fistfight between leading man John Wayne and comic antagonist Victor McGlaglen.

Directed by America’s cinematic Shakespeare, John Ford, and written by his frequent undersung collaborator, the great Frank S. Nugent, “The Quiet Man” is a tale of a guilt-ridden Irish-American boxer (Wayne, of course) who escapes to the old sod after accidentally killing a man in the ring. He finds true love of a very feisty and sexy sort with a very feisty and sexy young clan matriarch (O’Hara, naturally). The twist is that, thanks to the selfishness of her thuggish older brother (McLaglen), he also finds that the only thing that will save his new marriage is practicing the not-at-all-so-sweet science of fisticuffs. It’s also a comedy, made back when you didn’t have to label a film a “dramedy” just because it has a few serious moments and a decent story.

Since the film is the ultimate celebration of the rather intimate connection between Ireland and the U.S., as well as between man and woman and fightin’ man and fightin’ man, a drink that unites the sweet whiskies of Ireland and the U.S.A. while packing a slow punch seems appropriate. It’s also appropriate to admit that absent or two very minor variations, it’s a total rip-off of the Derby Day classic, the Mint Julep. Still, I think it’s a maybe a nice change of pace.

The Quiet Man

1 1/2 ounces Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Bottled in Bond)
1 1/2 ounces Bushmills
1 teaspoon super fine sugar
5-8 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon (or maybe 1/2?) Campari or Aperol

Start with the sugar and mint leaves and, if you’re feeling quirky, the Campari or Aperol bittersweet liqueur. Muddle the mint leaves with the lightest of touches in the bottom of a rocks glass. Next, add your twin whiskeys, many smallish ice cubes and stir enough to really get things nice and icey.

As for our toast…let’s see, we’ve got John Wayne, horse racing, Maureen O’Hara, John Ford, the Marquis of Queensbury, Frank S. Nugent…Yeah, that’s it. Frank S. Nugent. It could be the first time a screenwriter who never became a director was toasted by the public, though it sure wouldn’t be the the first time a screenwriter got toasted.

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I have to admit I don’t feel like I quite finished the job on this drink as far as the Campari or Aperol are concerned, which I added for a bittersweet edge. I was tempted to write that you could leave them out entirely, but I wasn’t too happy with that version, either. Try one, or the other, or maybe experiment with another liqueur choice of your own. I like this drink, but it’s a work in progress.

I feel a bit more satisfied with my choice of brands, which this week I’m making a part of the official recipe. Old Fitzgerald Bourbon definitely has the right Irish ring to it, and it’s also a wonderful, underrated product that you can actually afford. Moreover, the fact that it’s 100 proof ensures that a Quiet Man really will pack just a bit more punch than a standard julep.

As for Bushmills, I’m sure Jamesons or another Irish whiskey would do and I won’t even get into the silly “Bushmills is protestant whiskey” argument. In any case, “The Quiet Man” depicts an ecumenical mid-century Ireland where Roman Catholics and a tiny minority of  Church of Ireland believers get along quite famously.

Really, though, the surest way to ensure that you have a really good time with this drink is to actually enjoy it while watching the brilliant 2012 4k restoration of “The Quiet Man,” which you can do via Amazon or, right here below. I think springing for the HD version makes sense here. You’ll see.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Casa Noble Margarita

The Casa Noble Margarita. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Or, maybe it’s just the sound of boxes of bourbon and tequila being shipped all across the country as we approach Cinco de Mayo this Sunday and Derby Day tomorrow. If you’re both a devout Southwestern partier and a horse racing fanatic, you’ve got a busy weekend ahead.

I, however, have a decision to make. As a native Southern Californian, I very definitely would have been a son of Mexico had I been born, say, 115 years earlier. So, this year, the Mexican-American holiday defeats Derby Day in terms of which big day gets highlighted here on DOTW.

I therefore present a Cinco de Mayo treat that has benefit of being really, really simple and containing some truly outstanding booze. In fact, this is a rare case where I might like one of our featured freebie boozes a bit more than the actual cocktail, which is a very minor variation on a latter day mixological masterpiece.

Award winning and widely acclaimed, Casa Noble Tequila isn’t new. We’re told it’s history goes back to the 1700s, though Lord only knows exactly how long the modern day brand of Casa Noble Tequila Crystal — their white or “silver” tequila — has been on the market. Nevertheless, at any age I can tell you it’s delicious, with vegetable and pleasantly mineral notes that make this tequila pretty delightful straight up. That might have little to do with the fact that Casa Noble is one of three organic tequilas in the world, or that it’s partially owned by rock  legend and lifelong (Baja and Northern) Califorian Carlos Santana, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

The Casa Noble Margarita

2 ounces Casa Noble Crystal
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a glass. Toast the nation that gave the world the world not only tequila, tacos, and Santana, but Cantinflas, Salma Hayek, Carlos Fuentes, Anthony Quinn, and the world’s most interesting form of professional wrestling. No salt rim required

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The first time I tried this drink, I hadn’t gotten the memo about not adding salt to the rim, and so I did as one would usually do with a Margarita. I have to admit I liked it better that way, but salt is still not a part of the official recipe. Aside from substituting Grand Marnier for the usual orange liqueurs, triple sec or Cointreau, the lack of salt is about all that distinguishes this margarita from the classic margarita, which I wrote about back in 2011 and I still think absolutely requires salt.

In any case, I have to admit that I actually prefer the standard version, what with the salt and triple sec, to this classier but somewhat standoffish variation. On the other hand, I can’t wait to try a standard margarita with Casa Noble, maybe for actual Cinco de Mayo, because that stuff is very, very good.

  

Drink of the Week pre-5/5 special, part 2: the Mint Julep

the Mint Julep

We conclude our May 4, 2012 doubleheader with one of the most legendary of all cocktails and the ultimate Derby Day tradition. It’s also a drink, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve only tried for myself in the last couple of weeks.

According to such experts as New Orleans bartender Chris MacMillian, the Mint Julep was to the 19th century what the Martini was to the 20th. As MacMillians also reminds us, this super classic drink’s roots actually go back far further — juleps were eulogized in 1634 by “Paradise Lost” poet John Milton in his “Comus,” which some of us old English majors have actually read, even if we don’t remember a word of it. Today, the bourbon, sugar and mint concoction is primarily associated with Southern belles and gents in old movies seeking a cool libation on a powerful hot day, not to mention the ultra-famed horse race which will once again be run tomorrow afternoon.

As I heard from numerous sources, however, the actual juleps served in recent years at the home of the Kentucky Derby have been anything but satisfying. If word on the cocktail street is correct, Churchill Downs has fallen prey to the #1 enemy of good cocktails — a pre-mix! Tragic, perhaps but also almost understandable given the enormous crowds who arrive each year for Derby Day. In any case, if you want a really good Mint Julep, you’ll have to go a high quality bar with a decent mixologist in residence or, of course, you may make one yourself.

The Mint Julep

2.5-3 ounces bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 1 tablespoon sugar and a splash of water
About 5-8 fresh mint leaves
Lots of ice — preferably crushed.

Combine mint leaves, simple syrup or sugar (preferably superfine or powdered) and water in a rocks/old fashioned glass or, if you have one (I don’t) a traditional metal julep glass. Gently muddle the mixture, being careful not to overdo it as, we are warned, over-muddling mint can release some displeasing bitterness. Fill up your glass with ice, add the bourbon of your choice, and stir. Toast your favorite racehorse and sip slowly.

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There’s no doubt about it, I’m a piker when it comes to the Mint Julep. I’ve made a few decent versions of it but I don’t own the special sack — called a Lewis bag — or the mallet needed for making the crushed ice fine enough to make the julep a sort of highly alcoholic snow cone and I also don’t own a blender. Even so, this drink works fine with lots of ordinary ice, particularly if you’re a bourbon lover, as I am. I made some very good versions of it using the remainder of my Angel’s Envy — I still had some left over from my exploration of the Chicago Sour — but I had  good luck as well using some very inexpensive yet sweeter and highly drinkable Evan Williams brew. I’m sure Maker’s Mark or really any brand of bourbon you like a lot would work delightfully.

The only problems I encountered were when I tried to dial back the sweetness. None other than James Bond in “Goldfinger” ordered his drink tart. When I tried it that way, the flavors simply didn’t come together. Just because you own a license to kill and save the world once a year doesn’t mean you know everything.

Of course, I don’t know everything either. Something tells me the drink, as prepared a bit differently from me by Chris MacMillian himself below, was really something.

  

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