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.

  

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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: Jack Maple Egg Nog

Jack Maple Egg Nog. Christmas is nearly upon us and today we have a tasty yet fairly traditional spin on the ultimate yuletide cocktail. Better yet, unlike most members of the egg nog/egg flip family, the Jack Maple Egg Nog is a true cocktail in the classic sense in that it includes bitters.

It’s a good thing because there is almost too much sweetness to be had in a recipe I purloined directly from the Laird’s Applejack web site. Don’t scoff. One thing I’ve learned from being corrupted by numerous free bottles is that the mixologists who make up the recipes offered up by booze manufacturers tend to know their stuff, which makes sense because the whole idea is get you drink the product. The only sad part is that I still had to pay for my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy.

Not that I minded. 100 proof applejack definitely ranks with the great American boozes and this nog variation is a pretty wonderful way to use the U.S.A.’s oldest base spirit.

Jack Maple Egg Nog

2 ounces applejack
2 ounces heavy cream or half-and-half, or some combination thereof
3/4 ounce maple syrup
1 whole large egg
1 dash Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters
Ground nutmeg (crucial garnish)

If you’re familiar with the “dry shake” technique of working with eggs in drinks, this may sound old hat, but for the benefit of newbies, here we go.

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously, long enough to emulsify the whole egg and blend it with the dairy. Add ice, shake even more vigorously for as long as you can manage. Strain into a chilled rocks glass or something similar — the original recipe calls for a mug. Sprinkle with a small amount of ground nutmeg…not too much. Toast the spirit of fun and friendship of the holidays, also that diet you’ll be starting and the gym you’ll be joining first thing on December 26, or maybe January 5.

****

I stuck with my bottle of 100 proof Laird’s Straight for this drink, but I’m pretty sure Laird’s blended, but stil very tasty, 80 proof Applejack migh even be a bit of an improvement in some respects. Yes, the 100 proof is the superior beverage in terms of rich apple flavor. However, there may be a little bit more burn than some folks like with their egg nog, so a gentler spirit might be your preference. I  recommend, however, that you stick with Fee Brothers Aromatic bitters as opposed to the more standard Angostura. The former has more of a festive, ginger-spicy edge.

And then there’s the matter of butterfat and your choice of dairy products. To be specific, most half-and-half is about 12 percent fat, compared to roughly 38% percent fat in whipping cream.  We’re talking the difference between about 75 calories in two ounces of liquid if you use half-and-half to over 200 if you go with the heavy cream…and that’s in addition to the egg, the maple syrup, and oh yeah, the booze! Still, in exchange for all those calories, you get a deliciously creamy buffer between you and the alcohol.

The friend who helped me sample a few versions of this drink thinks that, in this case, more is more and you should stick with two ounces of heavy cream. I think my favorite version of the Jack Maple involved one ounce of cream and one once of half and half. It was a bit lighter and more refreshing than the ultra-fat version, while still being heavy enough to do the job. Still, I tried to see if I could reduce the enormous amount of butterfat in a proper nog. At one point, I experimented with just using 2% percent milk. We won’t talk about that.

  

Drink of the Week: The Marconi Wireless

the Marconi Wireless.I’m fond of quoting Arthur C. Clarke’s famous truism that any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. Well, despite a pretty good K-12 and college education courtesy of the great state of California, I’ll never quite understand in any visceral way how sound and images can be transmitted literally through the air. Yes, even old-fashioned low-tech radio seems like magic to me.

Indeed, wireless radio transmission must have seemed quite a magical miracle in the early 20th century and certainly worthy of its own cocktail. You can nevertheless argue that inventor Guglielmo Marconi was shortchanged in the mixed drink department because his liquid memorial is actually, like last week’s Añejo Manhattan, a pretty direct lift of one of boozedom’s most basic cocktails, albeit with just a couple of very simple alterations.

It’s the difference in base spirits that drew my attention in this case. The Marconi Wireless replaces Manhattanite whiskey with applejack, the apple brandy that appears to be America’s first truly indigenous spirit. Having just bought myself perhaps the most authentic of the very few remaining applejack products on the market, I was definitely raring to give this one a try. It might not be as masterful a cocktail as the Jack Rose, but it’s super easy to make and will tantalize the tired tastebuds of even fairly jaded cocktail snobs.

The Marconi Wireless

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Shake or stir vigorously as you prefer, and strain into a cocktail shaker. I guess you have no choice but to toast Signor Marconi who, after all, made mass entertainment as we know more or less still know it possible.

****
I usually like to try at least two different brands of my base spirit but sadly there’s basically one brand of American apple brandy on the market, and it’s Laird’s. I used their 80 proof blended applejack on the Jack Rose and was quite delighted with the results. However, I’ve been meaning to try out their 100 proof unblended Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy and it’s definitely even better, especially if you don’t mind a little alcoholic burn. (Apart from a regional brand, also manufactured by Laird’s, called Captain Applejack which may or may not be identical to Laird’s, the only real competition to applejack is France’s apple brandy, Calvados.)

On the other hand, I was able to mess around a bit with my vermouths. As you might expect, the solid and popularly priced Noilly Pratt produced a simple yet sophisticated result while the more expensive and voguish Carpano Antica added a more complex, bitter bass note to this fine Manhattan transfer.

  

Drink of the Week: The Applejack Old Fashioned

The Applejack Old Fashioned.I mentioned last week that I would be returning to the theme of that ultimate American hard liquor, applejack, for Thanksgiving weekend. And, so, here we are — using the once ubiquitous apple brandy for a variation on the ultimate American cocktail.

If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating when I refer to applejack as the ultimate American spirit, let it be known that no less a resource than Wikipedia tells us that a general named George Washington once asked a distiller named Robert Laird for the recipe for his brandy. The fact that today’s drink is made with Laird’s Applejack and not Washington’s Applejack either tells you something about General/President Washington’s famous integrity or his fear of early American intellectual property lawsuits.

Regardless, it doesn’t really get more American than that…Unless someone can find an image of John Wayne knocking back some of that ol’ applejack. And, if the Duke were to order a cocktail made with the stuff, I like to think it would be made something just like this.

The Applejack Old Fashioned

2.5 ounces applejack
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
1 orange slice
2 teaspoons soda water
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Okay, it’s more or less your basic Old Fashioned drill, muddled orange version, with a few modifications. The most obvious change is that I’ve included an additional half ounce of booze to account for the lightness in flavor of 80 proof applejack. (If you’re lucky enough to to have Laird’s bonded 100 proof version, which I’ve yet to try, two ounces is probably more than sufficient.)

Start by muddling your orange slice in the bottom of a rocks/old fashioned glass. Add all the liquid ingredients and some very large ice cubes. Stir for a good long time to get a little water into the drink, and sip. Toast doing anything other than shopping this weekend.

*****

Most of the recipes I found for Applejack Old Fashioneds called for at east twice as much maple syrup and no orange muddling, though some did add a lemon twist to the concoction. For me, an entire teaspoon meant that the maple simply took over the drink. Many recipes also called for Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters, a variation on the Angostura/aromatic bitters theme that I found slightly over-bitter and distracting.  I’ll go with the usual, this time. (Yes, I know. When I took the picture, I didn’t know I’d end up feeling that way re: the choice of bitters!)

On the other hand, I know that orange muddling in Old Fashioneds is somewhat frowned upon in certain classic cocktail quarters these days, but I like my Old Fashioneds that way, gosh darn it. Also, cutting the maple in half and adding a bit of less concentrated sweetness from the orange seemed like the way to go for this particular drink. So did doubling the classic single teaspoon of soda water and bumping the carbonation up ever so slightly. The result was a really nice drink that is as U.S.A./American as drinks get, especially if you’re maple syrup is from Vermont and not from the oh-so-foreign climes of Canada.

 

 

  

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