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.

****

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 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.”

***
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.

****
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.

  

Drink of the Week: The White Lady

The White Lady.Mad Men” begins it’s final season on Sunday night, and I think it might be fair to say that no television show has done as much for the cultural profile of cocktails in our time. This is despite the fact that serious cocktail cognosecnti will be quick to inform you that  the early 1960s was a good four or five decades on from the tail end of the first true heyday of cocktails, and they’ll no doubt add that the late 1960s was one Harvey Wallbanger of a lowpoint.

Even so, people who watch the cast of Matthew Weiner’s brilliant tragicomedy-cum-high-end soap quaff their Martinis, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds with some envy aren’t wrong. “Mad Men” is, in fact, about the final last gasp of an era. While there were many things about this old era we’re all better off without, it was also the last time people knew what an Old Fashioned was without being educated on the topic by Don Draper.

It’s not that people ever stopped drinking, it’s just they became more aware of the fact that alcohol was a drug they could use among many other drugs and the fact that it was also a food, of sorts, kind of got lost for about 30-40 years. In fact, let’s face it, at their booziest Don Draper and Roger Sterling might appreciate a well crafted beverage, but both of them would take Sterno if they had to.

This week’s drink is something I think Don and Roger would appreciate as it’s dry enough and boozy enough, but I think it might also appeal to Peggy Olson, Joan Harris and, perhaps most of all, the much maligned Betty Draper. It’s refreshing enough to help you relax on a hot New York State afternoon, boozy enough to forget your every dysfunction, and low-calorie enough not to knock you off your diet. Oh, and the name….

The White Lady

2 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 egg white

Yeah, I know, egg white again. If you read me enough to get tired of reading that, then you know the drill already but here we go. We’re going to do what is known as a “dry shake” to emulsify the egg, which we’re going to combine with the gin, orange liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker by, obviously, shaking it a bit. We’re then going to add what we moderns might refer to as “a buttload” of ice and then we’re going to shake it again.

Next, we’ll strain it into a cocktail glass and we’ll toast, I imagine, Betty Draper. We will attempt to politely avoid any racial connotations, but we will fail.

***
Yes, while the White Lady’s name might put you in mind of a Dave Chappelle routine if you say it with a certain cadence, the drink itself really is pure elegance. This is a very dry drink and very tart too, but the egg white smoothes everything over far better than any “Mad Men” character attempting to paper over a sticky emotional situation. Yeah, I know I’ve sung this eggy song before, but it’s really true.

I tried this drink with three different gins and two orange liqueurs and all were, in their own way, aces. Bombay Dry Gin and Cointreau was archly classic, a bit understated. Switching to sweeter triple sec took off every sharp edge for a mellower concoction. No. 3 London Dry Gin with Cointreau put the Juniper and citrus peel flavors of a class dry gin forward in a way I really liked. Cointreau with Plymouth Gin, however, produced a shockingly disappointing result. Something just didn’t blend right there. Keep your gin dry and Londony…though Hendricks, which is actually from Scotland, might possibly work very well with this. (If anyone out there tries that, please drop me a line like a good little reader, okay?)

That’s it. I could lie and tell you all I’ll be seeing “Mad  Men” on its first broadcast with you all on Sunday night, but I’ll actually be enjoying the tale end of the Turner Classic Movies annual film festival right around then. The hope is I’ll find a way to unite my passions for cinema and cocktails there. Stay tuned!

  

Drink of the Week: The Montenegro Sour

The Montenegro Sour. Lately, we’ve been featuring a few cocktails made with really good booze sent to me by the dark forces of the liquor-industrial complex. Today’s post is a bit different as the much appreciated gift of free booze came not from some shadowy Sidney Falco, but from Ron Shishido, a very old junior high/college buddy who’s probably taught me how to appreciate a good booze concoction as much as anyone else on this planet, including Rachel Maddow.

Amaro Montenegro is, on it’s own and served neat, quite a lovely drink. It’s a member of the amaro family of bittersweet liqueurs which occasionally pop up in cocktails. It’s popular enough in Italy to be featured in a series of slick commercials of the kind we use to sell highish-end beer in the States, and that’s for a reason. With a hard-to-pin down but relatively fruity flavor, it’s a kinder, gentler, vastly more drinkable brew than, say Torani Amer or the superior — but still two-fisted — Amaro CioCara. As bitter digestifs go, this one’s pretty sweet.

Perhaps because it’s so readily drinkable all on its own, I had a hard time finding a cocktail made with this particular amaro. However, Food and Wine bloggers Carey Jones and John McCarthy came to the rescue with a few recipes. I chose one featuring my all-time favorite non-alcoholic cocktail ingredient, egg white.

I’m not sure the drink is so accurately named, however. Whatever alleged citrus flavor there is comes from the mysterious herbal blend from which Amaro Montenegro is made, so it’s really more bitter, in a good way, than sour.

On the plus side, that means no potentially messy juice squeezing is required this time around and that definitely speeds up the cocktailing process. That’s good because I’m breaking my usual rule against recipes requiring home-made syrups. Yes, there’s a tiny bit of extra work involved, but be bold and read on.

The Montenegro Sour

1 ounce Montenegro Amaro
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 fresh egg white or equivalent (see below)
1/2 ounce honey syrup (see below)
1 dash aromatic bitters, Angostura or similar

Combine the Amaro Montenegro, bourbon, syrup, and bitters in cocktail shaker. First, as always with egg or egg white cocktails, we do a “dry” shake without ice to emulsify it. Then, we shake again, very vigorously and with plenty of ice, and strain it into a chilled cocktail glass or smallish rocks glass. We then enjoy this delightfully refreshing beverage and toast our amaro’s namesake, Princess Elena of Montenegro, the World War II-era queen consort of Italy known, for the most part anyway, for her good works.

****

Despite the fact that I often tell publicists with recipes that make-it-yourself syrups are off the table, I decided to make an exception this week for a couple of reasons.

First. the honey syrup for this recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Just mix equal parts honey and hot water, then stir. I put 1/4 cup of honey and that much water in the microwave for 30 seconds, stirred the stuff, and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes so it wouldn’t be too hot. Low on both muss and fuss.

The second reason we’re using the honey syrup is that I actually tried this drink more than once with my usual Master of Mixes Simple Syrup and it just didn’t do the trick. Too simple. Apparently, you need that little bit of honey flavor to complement the bourbon and amaro.

I used three different brands of bourbon. The always outstanding 80 proof Basel Hayden’s yielded a nectary result that went down very easy indeed. 94 proof Wathen’s, a brand that’s I recently bought out of curiosity and which I’m quite liking, produced a boozier, but also more full bodied, result.

Finally, there was the version using an old DOTW favorite that’s been returning to my local stores of late, “bottled in bond” 100 proof Old Fitzgerald, which remains the best bourbon bargain I’ve found at, in my case, less than $15.00 for a bottle. It produced a sweet, tangy, and very punchy attitude adjuster that, at that particular moment, was very much what the doctor ordered. Admittedly, however, that doctor would not be a liver specialist.

Finally, I have to add a few more words on the enormous power of egg whites to really transform a drink. Contrary to the common assumption, whites in drinks are not even slightly slimy but add a smooth, almost milky, froth to a drink. The froth smooths over the rough edges of the other flavors and unites them as well as anything I’ve ever experienced.

Still, many folks resist, and not all of their reasons are bad. I’ve been talking to an expert or two lately about what I still believe are the very low risks of using raw egg white. However, I’ve been told that, for people who are concerned, caution may still be in order especially right now for a number of reasons, cost-related reductions in government inspection among them, no doubt. (God forbid big government should stand in the way of a microbe’s ability to grow and prosper in a free-market environment.)

I just crack open a large egg and maybe wash the shell first. However, people with real health concerns of any kind  about this should very definitely consider using about 1-1.5 ounces of one of the many brands of pasteurized egg white on the market.

  

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