The Light from the TV Shows: Giving HBO’s “Phil Spector” a spin

When it was announced that Al Pacino and David Mamet, who proved to be a formidable combination of actor and writer/director on 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” would be reteaming for HBO’s original movie about Phil Spector, reactions of giddiness and uncertainty seemed to be in equal measure. Sure, Mamet’s awesome, and he’s obviously proven that he can get a great performance out of Pacino, but surely there’s substantial chasm between the fiction of Ricky Roma and the reality of Phil Spector, isn’t there?

Actually, you might be surprised.

PhilSpector2

If you haven’t seen “Glengarry Glen Ross” recently, maybe you should see how Roma’s described on Wikipedia:

Although Roma seems to think of himself as a latter day cowboy and regards his ability to make a sale as a sign of his virility, he admits only to himself that it is all luck. He is ruthless, dishonest and immoral, but succeeds because he has a talent for figuring out a client’s weaknesses and crafting a pitch that will exploit those weaknesses. He is a smooth talker and often speaks in grand, poetic soliloquies.

Those who’ve read about Spector’s brusque, often downright crazed interactions with musicians in the studio, his turbulent relationship with ex-wife Ronnie Spector, and a notorious obsession with firearms which—no matter how you spin the story of the night a woman named Lana Clarkson ended up dead in his home—was directly responsible for his eventual incarceration will certainly see some immediate similarities between him and Roma. After seeing HBO’s “Phil Spector,” you will see even more of them. What you will not see, however, is a movie that matches “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

But, then, you probably didn’t expect that, anyway.

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Drink of the Week: Between the Sheets

Between the SheetsLast time I was here we were talking about the distinguished history of the Mint Julep and referencing poet John Milton and his rather obscure poem, “Comus” (actually a masque if you want to get technical). Well, you can forget those high flown references this week because we’re getting down and dirty with a classic drink with no such poetic connotations.

Yes, before there was Sex on the Beach and the Screaming Orgasm there was this week’s bluntly named — at least by prohibition era standards, anyways — libation. On the other hand, it’s also probably a lot more appropriate for Mother’s Day weekend than you might care too think, given that cocktails like this are very often the mother of motherhood, if you will.

Between the Sheets

1 ounce brandy or cognac
1 ounce white rum
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 an ounce (or less) fresh squeezed lemon juice

Combine brandy/cognac, rum, lemon juice, and triple sec or Cointreau in a shaker with lots of ice. Shake vigorously and pour into our old friend, the pre-chilled cocktail glass. Shake, put on some Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Beyoncé, or Perry Como (don’t say I don’t give you people some options) and sip sensuously.

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Between the Sheets is an unusual drink not only for its pre-1970s salaciousness, but in that it’s in the small but fascinating family of multiple base spirit cocktails with its rum/brandy combo. Admittedly, however, this is not as much to my personal taste as the Saratoga — which features brandy and rye — from a few weeks back, but it will do.

I tried it several different ways but no clear favorite emerged. The version with inexpensive Bols triple sec was not cloying, as some drinks made with it can be. Using the high end triple sec, Cointreau, added a classy but not super-enthralling note of complex bitterness. Both drinks were fine but when I got a bit more experimental and used orange curacao, which I generally tend to prefer to triple sec, the drink became annoyingly super-sweet. Not sexy at all.

It might not be a huge personal favorite of mine, but I encourage you to give Between the Sheets a shot. It’s a tasty enough drink and a reminder of the healthy, natural activity that brought us all into the world so we can enjoy cocktails and feel guilty about not calling our mother’s enough.

Now, a behind the scenes look at the making of the cocktail we call humanity.

  

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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