Drink of the Week: Bitters & Blonde

Bitters & Blonde.After kinda sorta creating four new classic cinema inspired cocktails, I’m definitely ready to take it easy this week with a cocktail that’s about as simple as cocktails get. It’s actually worse that that because I readily admit that this oh-so-easy recipe has been spoon-fed to me, along with some very nice photography and Papa Pilar’s rather exquisite Blonde Rum.

I’ve featured this outstanding new brand before but it deserves another go. It’s truly flavorful stuff, no mere mixer, with a delightful mega-hints of vanilla and molasses. It’s part of an exciting trend of new high-end rums, and we’ll be working with some more of those in the not very distant future.

In the meantime, just to show you I’m not entirely a tool of big premium booze, I’ll admit that I don’t think this week’s drink is necessarily the absolute best way to enjoy  Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum. On the other hand, it’s a very nice way to enjoy it and perfect for the heat wave that’s engulfing Southern California as I write today’s post. If only it could fix my air conditioning.

Bitters & Blonde

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura or other aromatic bitters
1 lime wedge (garnish)

Build this drink over plentiful crushed ice in a Tom Collins glass. Add the rum and the ginger beer and, if you feel the need, stir gently. (They’ll get together on their own even if you don’t.) Top with as much bitters as you think wise and stir no more. Toss in the lime wedge if you like.

You sip this cocktail through the bitters in the same you sip through the cream at the top of an Irish coffee. As you enjoy the icy concoction toast the fact that, while you might have to crush your own ice to follow this recipe strictly, at least you probably don’t have to buy it from an ice man like your great-grandpa had to.

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As I alluded to just now, the only slightly tricky aspect of this drink is coming up with the crushed ice if, like me, you don’t have a crushed ice-maker and are making an aversion to blenders into your personal trademark. What works best for me these days is putting ice into a plastic bag and whacking it with a hammer-like implement of some sort…but not too hard. You don’t want to break the bag and send all the ice flying, which happens a great deal of the time if you’re not careful.

I tried Bitters & Blonde with a few different brands of ginger beer — a generally delicious product that also happens to be just as expensive as many brands of actual beer. All my attempts came out about the same regardless of the ginger beer though, and that’s because the bitters tend to dominate. In fact, I enjoyed my Bitters & Blonde more when I switched from uber-ubiquitous Angostura to Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. I found it imparted an almost peppermint-like back taste that worked well with the rest of it.

Still, this drink might not be for you if you’re not mad about bitters. If you prefer a more subtle use of the stuff — and even if you don’t — may I suggest an Old Fashioned with the Papa Pilar Blonde?

Just muddle a teaspoon full of sugar (I used turbinado) with just a dash or two of bitters (Fee Brothers, I’d suggest) and an orange slice in a rocks glass. Next, add two teaspoons of soda water and lots of ice, and, finally 2 ounces of the Papa Pilar’s Blonde and stir. If you can go wrong with that one, I have no help for you.

  

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Drink of the Week: Ward No. 5 (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Ward No. 5.You can make a case that the final drink inspired by some of the best films I was lucky enough to see at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is easily the best of the batch — the rest of which you can see for yourself here, here, and here. I wouldn’t say, however, that it’s worthy of the film that inspired it. That’s only because the movie that inspired is so stratospherically its own thing that it stands out among other film classics. If I had to make a choice, I’d much rather you saw the movie than tried my drink. Fortunately, however, there’s no reason you can’t do both!

You can read a little bit about my impressions of “A Matter of Life and Death” from five years back in my review of a DVD set, “The Films of Michael Powell” (fortunately still available from Amazon for a reasonable price, and also as a DVD rental from Netflix). Suffice it to say the film was the personal favorite of an English filmmaker who was every bit the equal of such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean. He famously befriended Martin Scorsese and married his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, but his latter day influence extends far beyond that. The important thing is that he made film as a form of healing magic with a dash of wry, realistic humanism that was witty, occasionally sensual (but not quite sensuous), and nearly always as British as British could be — but he did so with the help of a brilliant WWII-era expat Hungarian screenwriter/producer named Emeric Pressburger.

In “A Matter of Life and Death” (alternately titled “Stairway to Heaven,” way pre-Led Zeppelin), a young poet and war-hero (David Niven) who really should have perished along with his plane, finds himself very literally on trial for his life and his love of a American radio operator (Kim Hunter) while undergoing post WWII-era neurosurgery. It all happens in Ward No. 5 and I thought that would be a fine name for a drink that revives the mind and the soul and won’t be too horrific for the body, either.

Ward No. 5

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur (Dekuyper Mixologist Collection Ginger)
1 teaspoon grenadine (Master of Mixes)
1 pitted cherry (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and strain into a good size cocktail glass. Toast life, but also death — without one, you can’t really have the other.

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Cocktail enthusiasts may suss out that this drink is a slight variation on the very coincidentally named Ward 8, a lesser known classic-era cocktail — a mite tart for my taste — that I covered back in ’11. I’ve replaced the North American whiskey of the original for supremely English gin but kept the life-giving fresh citrus juices. Shaving off half an ounce of hard booze, I’ve also added the healthy properties of ginger…okay, ginger liqueur, but the alcohol is needed to salve the mind, right?

It’s a refreshing concoction but fairly sensitive and delicate. I tried changing out the Bombay Dry Gin for a very good but more elaborately flavorful gin and it throw the balance off in a way I wasn’t sure about. I also tried the drink with only 1/2 an ounce each of the orange and lemon juices and that result let a bit more of the gin’s perfume through.

I went with a more refreshing and accessible take on Ward No. 5. I don’t know what effect using a different brand of ginger liqueur would have on this drink because I only had one around, but the brand I’m using is very tasty. I’m not saying that only because I got it free, though freebies always do taste that much sweeter.

All in all, in rather proud of Ward No. 5, but I’m humbled by the beautiful, funny and tragically delightful movie that inspired it. I’m also rather happy to present the scene that gave me the idea for this final TCM-esque beverage.

  

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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Nutty Professor (TCM Fest Salute #2)

The Nutty Professor.And so we continue from last week, making drinks inspired by some of the most interesting films I saw at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival.

Today’s drink is inspired by the best regarded film starring, cowritten, and directed by Mr. Jerry Lewis, a man whose legacy and contribution to the movies and show business is so complicated I don’t dare to try and contain it in my little cocktail blog. Remade in 1996 with Eddy Murphy, the 1963 version of “The Nutty Professor” is a fairly boozy film, stylistically influenced by director Frank Tashlin, with whom Lewis worked on a number of earlier movies and whose output includes two candy-colored and alcohol-soaked 1950s must sees, “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (The latter, a spoof of the advertising business staring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield, is especially recommended for “Mad Men” fans.)

For those of you who’ve never seen it, Lewis’s film is a silly yet oddly bittersweet twist on “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He plays Julius Kelp, an ultra-nerdy, ultra-lonely college professor with horrendous teeth and a worse haircut who is smitten with young Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). In pursuit of Purdy, and some kind of a life, he concocts a potion and transforms himself into Buddy Love, a handsome, ultra-hep playboy blessed with massive confidence and a complete lack of kindness or humility.

Now, as I was looking for a cocktail inspired by “The Nutty Professor,” I could have gone with the Alaskan Polar Bear Heater, a cocktail Mr. Love orders during the film in James Bond-style detail. However, people have actually dared to make the drink not once but twice and, well, comparisons to the hindquarters of the late Ernest Borgnine were made. Like the obnoxious Mr. Love, that drink was clearly not intended to be endured by any actual, living human being.

I, however, have come up with a beverage that I think Julius Kelp, but not so much Buddy Love, would have approved of. It’s a bit literal on the matter of being “nutty” but it’s both kind of wholesome and professorial, while it’s also boozy enough to make you feel like a more charming version of yourself. Perfect for sharing with the delightful Miss Purdy. It’s also got enough ingredients to qualify as a chemistry experiment.

The Nutty Professor

2 ounces French brandy
1 ounce almond milk
1/2 ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
1 large egg white
1/4 ounce falernum
1 teaspoon absinthe
1 chopped or sliced almond (garnish)

First, combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice and shake. This is to properly emulsify the egg white; I’m sure Prof. Kelp would agree it’s the best way. Next, add ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a good size cocktail glass. (You’ll have leftovers if you use the glasses of the sized pictured above). Sprinkle your almonds on top. Then, toast…yourself, I suppose. As Prof. Kelp says, “You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you’re going to have to spend with you.”

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Let’s start with the brands. I didn’t specify them above because I wasn’t really using anything too special and I suspect other brands would work just fine, though it’s hard to be sure.

I didn’t have my usual brandy fall back, Reynal, on hand and instead used St. Remy, but I suspect any reasonably decent but understated brandy or cognac will be fine here. John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum is pretty much the only brand of that very sweet tiki standby you’re likely to find without breaking a serious sweat. (Some people actually make their own.)

My absinthe is one that absinthe fanciers look down upon, the possibly accurately named Absinthe Ordinare. (I bought because it’s also Abinsthe Reasonably Priced.) The orgeat is Torani, but I’m sure Monin’s syrup would probably be fine, too.

I’d tell you the brand of almond milk I was using if I thought that was important in any way, shape, or form. The egg whites, however, were brown, on sale, and cage free. Julius Kelp would want us to be kind to chickens.

Speaking of Prof. Kelp’s alter-ego, I was fortunate enough to see the 88 year-old Lewis, looking better than I’ve seen him look in a very long time , at Disney’s historic El Capitan theater before the screening of a beautifully restored “The Nutty Professor,” which I understand will be out in a deluxe Blu-Ray package this June. (Excerpts are on You Tube.) To be perfectly honest, I’ve had mixed feeling about Lewis for a long time and I have mixed feelings about the film, “The Nutty Professor,” which only becomes truly a film you actually need to see with the arrival of its Mr. Hyde, the vile but utterly gripping Buddy Love.

It was, therefore, definitely nice to see the man clearly enjoying himself and not really exhibiting any of the traits that have made him one of show business’s most openly prickly characters for as long as I can remember. (Was he acting at all during “The King of Comedy”?)

This Jerry Lewis, I would like to make a Nutty Professor for. It’s kind of tasty. I know it’s more drinkable than, say, an Alaskan Polar Bear Heater.

  

Drink of the Week: Make Way for Amaro (TCM Fest Salute #1)

Make Way for Amaro. For the last four years or so I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s been great and I’ve been able to cover it from a few different angles, both as a classic film loving cinephile and, last year especially, as a cinema-addled boozer.

This year, however, I’ve come up with a slightly different approach and will be covering the festival right from DOTW. For the next few weeks, rather than simply stealing drinks from elsewhere and trying them out myself as per usual, I’m going to be whipping up my own creations, all inspired by some of the amazing films I was lucky enough to see projected on the big screen in my native Hollywood. I’m not promising they’re all going to be cocktail classics. I’m not even necessarily promising they’ll be any good. I’m definitely not promising that they’ll be terribly original or unique. I am, however, reasonably certain that it’s a great excuse for me talk a little bit about a few remarkable movies.

I’m happy to say, the first drink of our series surprised me by turning out to be very drinkable indeed. In fact, I think I’ll have an easier time persuading many of you to try the drink that than to watch the film. That’s because, our selection is a tragicomic masterpiece about an elderly couple who are forced to separate by the behavior of their selfish, but all too understandable, adult children.

I know nothing I’m going to say that will persuade you that watching  Leo McCarey’s sneaky, awe-inspiring 15 hankie tragicomedy, “Make Way for Tomorrow,” goes down nearly as easily as this rather lively variation on the oldest of popular classic cocktails, but it’s that good a movie. The drink isn’t too terrible either.

Make Way for Amaro

2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye (100 proof)
1/2 ounce Amaro CioCiaro
2 teaspoons soda water or club soda
1 sugar cube
1 orange or grapefruit slice
Garnish with an additional slice of citrus twist

Muddle the sugar cube and citrus slice with the soda water in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the Rittenhouse Rye and Amaro CioCiaro – one of a number of bittersweet Italian after-dinner liqueurs – and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the smallest Tom Collins or Old Fashioned glass you can find. (The one in the picture is too big, but it did okay for me.) Toast your mom and your dad. In fact, if they’re alive, give them a call – before you have a second drink.

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Unless you’re a member of the Cinephile American community, you’ve probably never heard of Leo McCarey’s 1937 masterpiece. Though “Make Way for Tomorrow” has nearly as many well-earned laughs as tears – McCarey is legendary as a director of comedies like “The Awful Truth” and “Duck Soup” – it was a failure at the box-office. It could hardly have been a surpise. With subject matter like this, it would be a tough enough sell on today’s arthouse circuit.

Even so, the film takes a surprising and, at least temporarily, more upbeat turn at what might have been its most maudlin moment as the aged parents break free of their offspring and find themselves in the hotel where they enjoyed their honeymoon 50 years prior. A kindly manager suggests a cocktail and, despite that the fact that the Beulah Bondi character comes from an era when “nice” females never drank in public, they decide on “two Old Fashioneds, for two old-fashioned people.”

Aside from being the height of bittersweet comedic drama, the scene is interesting for cocktail geeks. The Old Fashioneds the couple enjoys actually look nothing like Old Fashioneds you’d get today. They are served in the kind of teeny-tiny glass that was once standard for cocktails – in this case a sort of mini-Tom Collins – and it’s not on the rocks. It’s presumably served up and with a long, spiral orange peel like you’d get in a classic Horse’s Neck.

Even so, I started out making this drink in the usual Old Fashioned fashion by building it in the glass and serving it on the rocks, but the results just didn’t come together. The amaro, which I’m using largely, though not entirely, in the place of the bitters, just kind of held the drink down. Shaking it and serving it in a chilled glass, however, added the kind of lightness to the drink that brought the whole thing together. It’s a bit glib to compare shaking a cocktail to the ample humor in an essentially tragic film, but it really did kind of feel and taste that way.

Finally, though I usually try to make my drinks as non brand-specific as I can, it’s hard enough to come up with a new cocktail in three days if you’re not an absolute souse and have a day job. I will say that I leaned towards the oldest school brands I could.  I went with rye instead of bourbon, and the wondrous Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond over a fancier newer brand because it’s just possible that that’s what Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore might have been served way back in 1937. Like the movie, you might be surprised but it packs at least as much of a punch today as it must have 77 years back.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself and watch the whole movie right here. I guess modern ways aren’t entirely for the birds.

  

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