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.”

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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.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Mai Tai

Mai TaiAs I begin writing, the winner of the U.S. presidential election is not yet known for at least another 12 hours, and people across the political spectrum are going a little insane. Well, I’m happy to say that, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, we have a drink that will help take the edge off a loss and intensify the joy of a win — at least assuming your spiritual beliefs allow you to drink alcohol. It’s also the first of the post-WWII Tiki-inspired cocktail classics I’ve dared to take on here. Wish me luck.

I owe part of this week’s column to the good people at Cruzan Rum. Along with the tasty spiced rum we featured last week, they were kind enough to send me a bottle of their Cruzan Black Strap Rum to play with. My search for an appropriate cocktail led me directly to cocktail historian David Wondrich, whose all-dark rum-based version of this ultimate South Seas inspired classic seemed a perfect vehicle for the stuff.

I also, however, deemed it necessary to try another brand of dark rum. I went with my usual reasonably priced but tasty fall back, Whaler’s. I think this recipe, which is borrowed pretty heavily from Wondrich, minus an Esquire-mag typo or two, works pretty well with both rums — but with significant differences. More about that after the recipe.

The Mai Tai

2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce orange curacao
1/2 ounce almond syrup (aka orgeat)
1/8-1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 mint sprig (highly advisable garnish)

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Shake like crazy and pour the whole thing, ice and all, into a well chiled Tom Collins or large rocks glass. Enjoy with or without a lovely tropical breeze. Toss in a sprig of fresh mint, if you’ve got it, and maybe one of your spent lime wedges, too.

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The Mai Tai was not, we are told, invented anywhere really close to Tahiti but in the not-so-very tropical land of Oakland, California at the original Trader Vic’s and presumably by Mr. Vic’s himself. As presented here, it’s a lovely concoction but I can also say that your choice of dark rum will yield a considerable difference.

To be specific, Whaler’s Dark Rum is quite sweet — not quite like a liqueur but not far from something like Old Tom gin. A mai tai made with it is a lovely thing that will make you popular with a large crowd and will go down your own gullet very, very easily. On the other hand, Cruzan Black Strap Rum has a lovely molasses flavor and bouquet, but is much less sweet. The result is a more sophisticated and complex mai tai. It’s very nice, indeed, but sometimes a little sophistication goes a long way, so I’d consider upping the simple syrup quotient, though lord knows this thing has enough calories.

One more experiment you can try is toss in a very small amount of vanilla extract. The original mai tai was made with something called rock candy syrup, which was basically regular simple syrup with a tiny amount of vanilla flavor in it.

Oh, and as I finish this post, I know how the election turned out. It’s enough to drive an old bleeding heart like me not to drink, but I think I’ll have another mai tai anyway.

  

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