Drink of the Week: The Old Fashioned (Remixed)

the Old Fashioned. I know this will probably drive me out of the cocktail writers’ club, but this week’s recipe-centric DOTW was preempted by a cold. I know this will make me sound a bit wussy to some of you, but I personally do not find that alcohol “kills the germs.” It’s more like granting them superpowers. Moreover, when I’m sick, some generic Alka-Seltzer Plus more or less does me just fine. In short, liquor has not passed these lips in over a week.

On the other hand, being sick also allowed me to wipe my DVR clean of “Mad Men” episodes…including episode 12, “The Quality of Mercy,” which my device decided to turn off about 1/3 of the way through the episode. I tried recording it again last night, but the show my DVR thought was “Mad Men” turned out to be CSI or NCIS or SVU or something else with letters or what not.  I’m sure I’ll catch up with it all by next Sunday.  The point is that “Mad Men” is whipping up more controversy and hysteria than ever, and it’s lovable/hatable alcoholic antihero/hero, Don Draper, has done more than his share to revive interest in classic cocktails in general and one ultra-classic, in particular, the Old Fashioned.

If you want a recipe, as such, you can find not one but actually two if you read my last look at the Old Fashioned closely.  That was just a little over two years ago, but the two approaches to the drink in it remain pretty close to the way I often make it now…except I’m slightly more open-minded about the use of soda water. Still, I say keep it minimal if you use it at all.

On the other hand, that’s not quite what Mr. Draper does in this memorable scene from a long-ago season when he makes a new and short-lived friend in Conrad Hilton by making him an Old Fashioned. Yes, we’re breaking the format this week and in lieu of a recipe, you’re getting this legendary moment in televisionary cocktailing.

Now, watching this again, it occurs to me I’ve never made an Old Fashioned precisely this way. Don uses a bit more soda water than I would prefer. And note how he doesn’t really stir it, but just sort of dashes the bar spoon on the ice cubes a couple of times. On the other hand, his wetting of one sugar cube per glass (they look like rather large brown sugar cubes to me) with Angostura bitters and then muddling them is absolutely classic. The fact that he includes a cheap, bright red, non-Luxardo maraschino cherry in his muddling would, on the other hand, horrify many in the crafty cocktail set, but I don’t think it’s a problem.

No, if I were drinking tonight, I’d probably make pretty much exactly that drink, though I’ve never been a big Old Overholt guy. This rye has become the craft bar standard recently — I can’t speak for its popularity in 1963 — but I prefer my bonded Rittenhouse Rye or Don Draper’s favorite not-quite-rye, Canadian Club. (CC, by the way, sponsors a brief tutorial with their version of an Old Fashioned as an extra on the Blu-Ray/DVD of “Mad Men” Season Five.) Right now, I’d be using Bulleit’s Rye, because that’s what I’ve got. I’m sure it would be decent.

And that’s actually the thing about an Old Fashioned — even more than a Martini or a Manhattan, it’s sturdy and flexible. Paradoxically, it’s also easy to foul up completely, as most non-craft bars do, if you use too much sweetener, water, or even whiskey. One teaspoon for two ounces of whiskey is pretty much the right proportion, and it’s definitely also the maximum if you’re muddling fruit. Also never, ever, use the syrup that comes with the sweet-supermarket maraschino cherries as your sweetener. Don’t.

Still, like I said, there’s that a lot of leeway with your Old Fashioned. You can make the very severe kind with only a teaspoon full of soda water, a sugar cube, bitters, and not very much ice — or, the fashionable craft bar favorite, one giant and slow to dilute cube — or you can make the lusher version I mostly lean towards, in which I muddle an orange slice and maybe a cherry, too, while throwing in a splash or two, or three, of plain water and enough ice to fill my rocks glass.

There’s an idea out there that there’s one way to make a perfect Martini or Old Fashioned, and I’m here to tell you that’s balderdash. I’ve mad dozens of these drinks in dozens of ways — I’ve even served an Old Fashioned up, shaken, as if it was a Martini or Manhattan — and it nearly always works, at least a little bit.

At bars, I’ve had two truly great Old Fashioneds. One was for probably $15.00 at a very high end joint in Century City on November 4th, 2008 and used Michter’s Rye (or maybe Bourbon). The other was a $3.00 happy hour beverage with the well bourbon (Evan Williams, I think) by a nameless bartender at the Hudson in West Hollywood several months back. I’m sure they were made in completely different ways.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that these recipes — all of them — are guidelines. I’ve veered between the various poles of making Old Fashioneds and I’ve yet to find a consistently great way to make the drink, but some of my tries have been very good. Some have also been disappointing. I still think the official recipe I wrote two years back is the most reliable, but my results always vary.

It’s pretty much the same way as it goes with a great television series like “Mad Men.” Maybe the season closer will be a real humdinger, or maybe it won’t. We should all just relax and let it be whatever it is.

Unless, of course, the nuttier online tea-leaf readers are right and the Manson Family or stand-ins really do end up killing Megan Draper. That, my friends, would be more stupid than sweetening your Old Fashioned with two tablespoons of the cheap maraschino cherry syrup.


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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Robert Picardo (“China Beach”)

Some know Robert Picardo for the time he spent playing the Emergency Medical Hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” while others remember him more fondly for his work as Coach Cutlip on “The Wonder Years,” but at the moment, the TV show on his resume that more people are talking about than any other is “China Beach,” which is – after way, way too long a wait – finally on DVD. Picardo took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about the release of “China Beach: The Complete Series,” his reminiscences of working on the series, and if viewers are wrong to see a touch of his Dr. Dick Richard turning up in the aforementioned EMH.


Bullz-Eye: From what I understand, it sounds like we’re both on the same page as far as being unable to refresh our memories on “China Beach”: they tell me my copy of the complete-series set is due to arrive tomorrow.

Robert Picardo: Oh, good for you! But I did already get mine. [Laughs.] They got it to me yesterday, and I devoted some time to it. I watched a couple of the bonus features. There are 10 hours of bonus features, and I guess I watched about two hours of them, or thereabouts. And then, even though I had to get up very early this morning to do these interviews, I thought, “Well, I’ll pop in the pilot and just watch the first five minutes to see the quality of the transfer.” And, of course, I watched the entire pilot. I couldn’t turn it off! So that was a good thing. The fact that I was so captivated was a good sign.

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I’m really happy to see that the show, which was a period piece to begin with…I mean, we made it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it was set from ’68 to ’71, principally, and then the last season we kind of skipped into the future as late as 1987. But basically it was a period piece to begin with, so in that respect it hasn’t aged. It’s still a great time capsule and doesn’t feel dated, and I’m so proud of the work in it. Dana is extraordinary, Marg Helgenberger is extraordinary, but the whole ensemble is just great. You know, it was a very special time in my career, and I know and I’ve heard Dana and Marg and pretty much all of the actors say the same, so to have it reach a new audience is really very gratifying and exciting.

BE: What do you remember about your first read of the pilot script?

RP: I remember reading it and thinking it was great. And important. It felt like an honor to be part of something like that, which was really about something, I mean, obviously, you’d…I guess you’d say the success of the movie “Platoon” led to the possibility of major television networks doing Vietnam dramas. And, of course, “Tour of Duty,” our sister show… [Laughs.] Well, that was really more about “Platoon” and about the soldiers fighting. What was unique and special about “China Beach” was that the point-of-view character was a woman, an Army nurse who served there. So it gave the show a special perspective. It wasn’t about combat, it was about saving lives. It was about supporting and helping soldiers. The war was like an offstage character.

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We were the support group there—the nurses, the doctors, the USO people—to sort of support and patch the guys up and either send them back or, if they were too injured, send them home. And more often than not, if they were dead, you’d offer the last gesture of respect to them. That’s what Michael Boatman’s character did, the guy who ran the grave registration. What a terrific role, and an extraordinary performance for a 24-year-old guy. I mean, to have so much…what’s the word? He created such a character who had seen everything, and he was totally believable as a guy who…that was his life, just all of that death and loss. And what that had turned him into was sort of a 24-year-old old man. Anyway, it’s just great writing. William Broyles, who served in Vietnam and who co-created the series, said that he feels it’s the best war drama that’s ever been on television. And, well, yeah, you could say that he’s a little partial, since he co-created it. [Laughs.] But you know what? I agree with him.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Magic City is a Must-Buy

I really don’t have much of a clue who reads what around here—I mean, I’m just sayin’, but…we do have a comments section, you know—but if you happened to have caught my column from April 25, then you already know a little bit about how I felt about Starz’s “Magic City” when it first hit the airwaves. At the time I wrote about it, however, I’d only seen the first three episodes, so I couldn’t really offer much in the way on incisive commentary. Indeed, to save you from clicking on the above link, the bullet points of my brief discussion of the series were…

1. It looks great.

2. The second episode rehashed too much of the pilot, but the third episode was much better.

3. As far as the cast goes, Danny Huston makes a great bad-ass, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is in fine form as well, and although Alex Rocco’s storyline was a bit schmaltzy for my tastes, he’s still Alex Rocco, which means his scenes are worth seeing simply because he’s in them.

All things considered, it’s probably best that I hadn’t yet seen the fourth episode when I wrote about the series, since not only did it prove to be the most disappointing installment of the entire season, but it left such a bad taste in my mouth—I believe the precise phrase I used to describe the series at the time was “infuriatingly inconsistent”—that, if I’m to be honest, I could’ve flipped a coin to decide my thoughts on whether it was going to get better or worse in the coming weeks. Pretty much all of the good will it had built up in the preceding three weeks had been shot all to hell in the span of a single hour.

Thank God it got better. In fact, it got so much better that, now that Magic City: The Complete First Season has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, I have absolutely no hesitation about recommending it as a must-buy. I really can’t speak to what happened behind the scenes to turn the series around in such a dramatic fashion, but it was one of the most impressive TV turnarounds I’ve ever seen.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Eric Ladin (“The Killing”)

If you’ve been trying to figure out why Eric Ladin, who plays Jamie Wright on AMC’s “The Killing,” looks familiar to you but can’t quite pin down why, maybe this will help: in addition to being one of the cast members of HBO’s critically acclaimed miniseries “Generation Kill,” he’s also turned up in a few episodes of “Mad Men,” playing Betty Draper’s brother. Now, however, he’s back to playing Darren Richmond’s campaign manager on “The Killing,” which – as you may already be aware – returned to AMC for its second season on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the ratings weren’t necessarily what you’d call stellar, but Ladin’s enthusiasm about what viewers can expect during the course of the series’ sophomore year may prove infectious.

Bullz-Eye: So are you psyched that “The Killing” is finally back?

Eric Ladin: I am. It’s about time! I think everybody is.

BE: Of course, you realize that a lot of people are really just desperate at this point to find out definitively who killed Rosie Larson.

EL: I do realize that, yeah. [Laughs.] I’ve been reminded of that quite a lot over the last nine months.

BE: Were you shocked at the outcry about the lack of resolution in the season finale?

EL: I was, a little bit. I knew that there would definitely be some people that were upset, but I didn’t foresee the hatred and…just the pure venom that was spat towards our writers. [Laughs.] Yeah, I was a little shocked by that.

BE: At least there was a small but somewhat vocal group that was reminded people that we didn’t find out who killed Laura Palmer until the second season of “Twin Peaks.”

EL: That’s correct. And if you ask David Lynch, he’ll probably tell you that the biggest mistake he made was telling people who killed her at all. I think he said – this was in an interview I read – that if he was able to do it again, he’d never tell who the killer was. So, yeah, I don’t believe that there was anywhere that said that you were guaranteed to find the killer in Season 1, but by the same token, I think that AMC’s PR probably could’ve handled it a speck differently. With that said, as a TV viewer, I would not have expected to find the killer in Season 1. So I guess there’s that.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Game of Thrones” begins anew (and so does “The Killing”)

As we enter into the final quarter of the traditional broadcast TV season, where many of the mid-season entries are already beginning to wrap up their runs (“Alcatraz,” for example, aired its two-hour finale on Monday) and most of the series that kicked off way back in the fall are in that depressing twilight period just prior to their last run of new episodes before season’s end, many of your favorite premium cable programs are taking advantage of the semi-lull by coming back with a vengeance.

This past Sunday, of course, AMC brought us the return of “Mad Men,” which you probably already knew, since it managed to pull in 3.5 million viewers, a none-too-shabby increase of 21 percent over the series’ previous season premiere. This Sunday, the network has another series coming back, though it’s probably safe to presume that the numbers won’t be nearly as impressive for this one. But, look, if your excuse for not liking “The Killing” is that they didn’t resolve Rosie Larsen’s murder by the end of the season, go peddle your wares somewhere else, because I’m tired of hearing people whine about that. So what if it hasn’t been resolved yet? A show’s allowed to keep its viewers in suspense, isn’t it? If you didn’t like it because you thought it was boring, that’s one thing. If you’re really complaining because the producers promised “a very, very satisfying ending to Season 1” and reneged on that promise, though, I say that you may be well within your rights to be frustrated, but don’t say, “Ugh, they lied, therefore the show sucks,” because that’s just lame.

I do think AMC must be resigned to the return of “The Killing” being slaughtered both by the critics and in the ratings, however, since even though it’s coming back this Sunday night at 8 PM for a two-hour season premiere, the homepage of the network’s press resource center is still busy trumpeting last week’s return of “Mad Men.” For my part, while I do think the series dragged quite a bit in places and reached the point of ridiculousness with how many times Sarah Linden bailed on her planned departure (if I was Ray McDeere, I probably would’ve broken off my engagement to Sarah somewhere around Episode 1.3), I was perpetually gripped whenever Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton were portraying parental grief, and I am steadfast in my disagreement with anyone who says that Episode 1.11 (“Missing”) was an unnecessary detour away from the case, because that may have been my favorite episode since the pilot. If you didn’t like that episode, you probably also watched “Twin Peaks” and complained about how they spent too much time focusing on Audrey Horne when they could’ve been figuring out who killed Laura Palmer…and I’m here to tell you that you can never spend too much time focusing on Audrey Horne.

Quick sidebar: if you didn’t watch “Twin Peaks,” this is Audrey Horne:

This concludes your moment of Sherilyn Fenn zen. We now return to our regularly scheduled column…provided we can all get our concentration back.

Oh, right, now I remember where I was…

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