The Light from the TV Shows: Kevin Smith and his “Comic Book Men” are coming to AMC

If you don’t know that Kevin Smith has a tendency to get a little geeky with his pop-culture pursuits, then I can only presume that the sentence you’re reading at this very moment is the first time you’ve ever heard of Kevin Smith. Seriously, the man’s all about geek culture, and he’s not afraid to liberally pepper the dialogue of his films with comic book and sci-fi references…and by “liberally pepper,” I mean that, as often as not, you’re knee deep in the stuff. As such, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that his latest endeavor finds him serving as the executive producer of a new AMC reality series – their first in the genre – called…

The series takes place in Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the comic shop Smith owns in Red Bank, NJ, and revolves around the guys who work there – Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Michael Zapcic, and Ming Chen – as they go through their daily routine, much of which…at least for the purposes of the series, anyway…will involve the people who bring items into the store in hopes of selling them.

Yes, that’s right, go ahead and figure on every review of “Comic Book Men” featuring some reference to the series being like “Pawn Stars,” except geekier. This is in no way an inaccurate comparison. In fact, to hear Smith tell it, his pitch for the series actually involved the words, “Let’s do ‘Pawn Stars’ in a comic book store.” But, look, I’m just gonna tell you outright: that sentence alone would’ve been enough to get me to sign up for a season pass on TiVo, and having now actually watched a rough cut of the first episode, I see no reason to backpedal on that theory. Not only do we see some pretty cool shit coming into the store – like, say, a still-boxed Six Million Dollar Man figure with bionic “scope” eye – but there’s a lot of incredibly geeky conversation, too, like the guys’ deepest superhero crushes. (For the record, mine was always Tigra. Just sayin’.)

By the way, speaking of Smith, you probably noticed that I didn’t mention his name as one of the guys who works at the Secret Stash. This, of course, is because he’s got better things (relatively speaking) to do with his time. Don’t worry, though: he’s still in every episode, since the goings-on in the store end up being discussed on the group’s podcast, of which Smith is a part, and the recording sessions have been filmed and are spliced into the proceedings.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Spotlight on Booze: Gin

It’s lost some commercial ground to vodka over the decades, but the revival of interest in classic cocktails has given gin a boost lately. In any case, this venerable liquor remains the standard clear alcohol among serious cocktail aficionados, who strongly prefer its more complex flavor and swear it’s the only true main ingredient in a martini.

Gin is distilled from grain, usually wheat or rye, and starts out as a fairly plain spirit probably not so different from vodka. After that, “distilled gins” are then distilled a second time with various flavorings. That slightly perfume-like aroma you’ve noticed comes primarily from juniper berries. That’s only for starters, as gin manufacturers use a pretty vast assortment of herbs and other botanicals ranging from licorice root to grapefruit peels. Some ultra-cheap brands are “compound gins.” These gins are not redistilled, but simply have tiny infusions added — they’re basically gin-flavored alcohol.

Most modern gins are “dry” and manufactured in England; these gins legally may not contain any added sugar and that aids in the liquor’s superb mixability. As far as we can tell, however, there isn’t much predictable difference between “London dry, “extra dry,” and other similar designations. “Plymouth” gins technically only have to come from the coastal town, but they tend to have a somewhat more complex, pungent, and slightly sweeter flavor profile. Largely produced in Holland and Belgium, genever is a less strong gin variant popular in central Europe. With plenty of added sugar, you can still find very sweet “old Tom” gin if you look hard. Speaking of sweet, you’ve likely had a slurp or two or of “sloe gin,” actually a liqueur made with gin or cheaper neutral spirits mixed with sloe berries. Most brands of gin are between 84 and 92 proof (42-46 percent alcohol), but a number of less upscale mass market brands are available at 80 proof or even less.

Like all types of booze, gin is available in a number of price levels, but there’s not really any such thing as a super premium gin. While you can easily spend $150.00 or much more on a bottle of small batch bourbon or single malt Scotch, if you find a bottle of regular size bottle of gin selling for more than $50.00, you’re probably paying mostly for ultra-fancy packaging. Some of the best and/or most popular premium gins include Tanqueray Ten, Plymouth (a brand as well as style of gin), and Bombay Sapphire. Just as good or better, in our opinion, are the mid-priced premiums, available in some states at discounters like Costco, Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s. These include Tanqueray, Bombay Dry Gin (less heavy on the perfumey juniper berries than Sapphire), and Hendricks, an increasingly popular Scottish gin we like quite a bit. A bit cheaper, still quite good, and very rich in “Mad Men”-style classic street cred, is Beefeater.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Spotlight on Booze: Canadian Whisky

Make no mistake, this is not only your dad’s but also your grandfather’s whiskey. Depending on your age and where your family was during prohibition, it might even be your great-great-grandfather and/or grandmother’s whiskey. Say what you like about Canadian whisky, it’s stood the test of time.

Sometimes referred to, particularly in Canada, as rye despite the fact that it’s primarily made with corn spirits, Canadian whisky, unlike now resurgent American rye whiskey, never threatened to go away. Still, while some uninformed bartenders still think rye is just the name of a type of Jewish bread, it’s the rare bar that doesn’t stock Seagram’s V.O., Canadian Club, Crown Royal and often Black Velvet. Its the even rarer connoisseur or cocktail aficionado who will admit to being excited about them, with some liquor snobs deriding Canadian as “brown vodka.” Following their lead, younger drinkers who have taken to premium brands of bourbon and Scotch, have largely ignored it. That’s not to say unassuming Canadian Whisky has no fans among the cognoscenti. We kind of love it and no less an authority than cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests Canadian Club — a value-priced favorite of ours — as the perfect vehicle for an Old Fashioned, the most purist-friendly whiskey cocktail we know.

In any case, pop culture seems to be slowly becoming more aware of American rye whiskey’s almost-as-retro northern cousin. The 2008 primary elections saw Hillary Clinton swigging a much-discussed shot of Crown Royal, the very smooth Chivas Regal of Canadian. Though the label is angled so that the logo is just slightly out of our view, it’s clear that Canadian Club — first brewed by distilling legend Hiram Walker — is Donald Draper’s poison of choice on “Mad Men.” (In the first episode, newbie secretary Peggy Olson is informed that rye is the same as Canadian, and told it’s what her new boss drinks.) It also sure looks to be Canadian Club that washing up on the Jersey shore in HBO’s bootlegging themed early gangland drama, “Boardwalk Empire.” By law, Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, though Canadian Club and Seagram’s V.O. are both aged for six

In fact, the popularity of Canadian whisky — which many insist must be spelled sans “e” — in the U.S. goes back to those dark days for everyone but gangsters between 1920 and 1933 when the sale and manufacture of liquor was illegal in the land of free and home of the brave, but thoroughly legal up north. Jewish-Canadian entrepreneur and liquor distributor Samuel Bronfman became wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by staying more or less on the right side of the law while doing business with the likes of Al Capone. He purchased Joseph E. Seagram’s and Sons and launched what became, for a time, a massive commercial and media empire. (It’s worth noting that the line’s flagship brand, Seagram’s 7 Crown, best known as the non-7-Up ingredient in a “7 and 7,” is not technically Canadian whisky. The U.S. version, at least, is bottled in Indiana and marketed as “an American whiskey,” whatever that is.)

Since it’s primarily blended and is generally not a very complex kind of a whiskey, it’s likely that Canadian will never have the cachet of bourbon, rye, or Scotch, but its hipness quotient may be improving slightly. Canadian Club has shrewdly played on its history with a series of attention-grabbing print ads with the slogan “Damn right, your dad drank it.” The ads alluded to the allegedly racy lifestyles of fathers of yore and used actual family photographs from Canadian Club employees.

As for cocktail and liquor aficionados, New York Times writer Robert Simonson blogged some time ago that his contacts in the gourmet and mixology worlds became obviously bored at the mere mention of Canadian whisky. However, Simonson’s April 2011 article details how there are real changes brewing in the world of Canadian booze. He specifically cites the highly acclaimed Forty Creek distillery and also attempts by better known makers of Canadian whiskey to brew blends that will appeal to drinkers used to the more complex flavors of today’s premium whiskeys.

Forty Creek does appear to be the most prevalent of the “new style” Canadian whisky manufacturers and we were able to pick up a bottle on sale at out local big-box beverage emporium. Our reaction was a bit mixed; we still think Canadian Club is more tasty and given its extremely low price, difficult to beat. Even so, we anxiously await the arrival of more and better Canadian whiskys. It’s time to see if our polite and funny friends to our north can create some premium whiskeys that will give some real competition to Kentucky and Tennessee, not to mention Scotland and Ireland.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pimm’s Cup

Pimm's CupLike Campari, Sambuca, and the like, Pimm’s Cup #1 is a bottle you’ll see at a lot of bars but which, at least here in the States, no bartender ever seems to open and which most barfolk will tend to discourage you from trying. They have their reasons because, on its own, it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a concoction of gin and various herbs that has a nicely sweet but also fairly bitter flavor. It’s somewhere between a liqueur and Angostura.

It may be a little harsh straight, but it can mix very accessibly. A popular cocktail classic in the UK that has been referenced on both “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” Pimm’s Cup, the cocktail, combines this relatively low alcohol (50 proof) base spirit with various types of soda and fruit and vegetable garnishes.

In my experiments, I avoided some of the very elaborate recipes which are more like very large and very wet fruit salads and eventually settled on the simple recipe below, adapted freely from the method used by Minneapolis mixologist D.J. Kukielka. It’s a winner — a tasty refreshment for lightweights with discerning palettes.

The Pimm’s Cup

2 ounces Pimm’s Cup #1
4 ounces (approximately) ginger beer or ginger ale
Cut-up cucumber (to taste)
Cucumber slice (garnish)
Lemon slice (garnish)

Place cucumbers in cocktail shaker and muddle. (Having an actual muddler on hand is a real help here, and essential if you want a truly well-stocked bar.) Add Pimm’s Cup #1 and ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a Tom Collins glass over ice (preferably crushed). Top off with ginger ale and garnishes. Stir with swizzle stick or barspoon.

****
I’m barely exaggerating when I say that there are a million recipes for this beverage on line, and they’re all pretty different from each other, which I suppose befits a drink that is something like the British equivalent of sangria. I get the impression that you could pretty much throw any fruit you can think of in, if you want. Still, I had by far the best luck with the recipe above and, though it’s more expensive, ginger beer does work slightly better than good old Canada Dry.

If you want to be really authentic, however, be aware that the original recipes often call for lemonade. The confusion here is that what the British call lemonade and what we Yanks call it are two different things. UK lemonade is a lemon soda which some compare to 7-Up — and many online recipes specially call for American-style lemon-lime soda — but Brits inform us that true British lemon soda tastes fairly different than our uncolas. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Los Angeles with a large British ex-pat population and specialty stores to go with it, or want to go online and don’t mind spending a little extra cash, I bet you can find some and go full Brit.

  

Drink of the week: The Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned As the name implies, this drink is perhaps the very oldest classic cocktail extant and, as with the Martini, it carries with it as much controversy and variation as you can possibly imagine. It’s staying power is no mystery in that it’s based on the fact that whiskey has some natural sweetness to it and, as Julie Andrews and the Sherman Brothers remind us, just a very literal spoonful of sugar really does help that medicine go down

Oddly enough, for such a simple drink, it’s one that only the best bartenders we’ve met seem to have mastered. On the other hand, as “Mad Men” viewers will remember from one particular episode, Don Draper has, too.

The Old Fashioned

2 ounces of whiskey (bourbon, rye, or Canadian)
1 teaspoon of superfine sugar and 1/2 ounce water, or 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
Angostura or Regan’s Orange Bitters
Orange wedge and/or maraschino cheery (very optional)

Dissolve superfine sugar — regular table sugar or cubes will also work but are harder to dissolve — in water or pour 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (i.e., sugar water) into an wide mouth Old Fashioned glass. If you like, muddle (smash) an orange slice in the bottom of the glass. Add ice cubes, whiskey and bitters — again, we personally prefer Angostura for bourbon or rye or Regan’s Orange for Canadian, but it’s your call. Stir vigorously with a swizzle stick or club spoon. If you like it a bit diluted, feel free to add just a bit of water, though purists will disagree wildly.

***

Now, as I alluded to above, there are a great many controversies about the Old Fashioned and what works best in one. Don Draper and I are quite partial to the muddled orange slice and/or marischino cherry, particularly if it’s one of the very expensive gourmet cherries you’ll find at some excellent high-end bars. Famed politics and cocktail maven Rachel Maddow finds all that sweetness to be of the sickly variety and offers only a slice of lemon zest in a move that’s similar to the traditional recipe for the sazerac, a drink we’ll be covering later. She also uses a sugar cube and a muddler rather than my preferred choice of using superfine sugar or simple syrup for an easier sugar distribution, as well as soda water. Esquire‘s resident cocktail historian, David Wondrich, is of a similar mind.

I will say that I haven’t tried using soda water in the tiny quantities that Ms. Maddow does, nor have I tried one with as little ice, but I will be giving  the Maddow/Wondrich historical version a shot soon enough. It might be a bit strong for most people, but since Wondrich and Maddow suggest two of my favorite products — Canadian Club and Rittenhouse Rye (100 proof — yes, sir!) — I’m optimistic that this originalist take might just work as well.

On the the other hand, while I’ve been known to (gasp!) water my Old Fashioneds with just an additional splash or two, using a significant amount of soda water for this purpose is a big no-no, though it’s standard practice at many bars. Moreover, do not use maraschino “juice” in place of sugar/simple syrup, also standard practice at a lot of watering holes. To be scientific about it, it comes out way icky that way. I think me, Maddow, Wondrich, and even Draper would agree about that.

  

Related Posts