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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Big and Stout

the Big and Stout.I see my share of boozy pitches here at Drink of the Week Central and, believe it or not, I ignore a great many of them. Still, I couldn’t ignore the one that came from the melding of the great nations of Japan and Kentucky that we call Beam Suntory. Why is easy to explain.

I’ve been increasingly interested for some time in cocktails that include beer or ale. Also, regular readers will note that I’m mad for drinks that include raw egg whites or, better yet, whole raw eggs. So, no surprise that the Big and Stout immediately caught my attention as it contains both stout and whole raw eggs! It’s also created by Midwestern celebrity chef Michael Symon and I gather he’s a very big deal in Bullz-Eye’s home town of Cleveland. Based on this drink, I’m definitely willing to plunk down $75.00+tip and cocktails for one of this guy’s dinners.

The Big and Stout is, I should add, well named as I’m personally a bit bigger and stouter after drinking it for an entire week, but it’s just about worth it. It’s a full-fledged desert in a glass, a full bodied drink that’s the perfect 100% adult sophisticated milkshake without the milk, wonderfully simple and quite hard to mess up — it’s been pretty much a home run every time I’ve tried it, which is saying something. Let’s not waste any time.

The Big and Stout

1 ounce bourbon (true sophisticates will want Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve)
1 1/2 ounces milk stout/sweet stout
1 whole egg
3/4 ounce simple syrup (or 1 rounded tablespoon superfine sugar)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice first (the famed “dry shake”) to properly emulsify the egg. Be careful; between the egg and the slight carbonation of milk stout, there’s an excellent chance the top of your shaker will want to come off. Add ice and shake again, this time very vigorously. Strain into a well chilled old fashioned or cocktail glass. Toast your feet. Drink enough of these and you might never seem them again, though you probably won’t care.

****

So, yes, this drink comes to us courtesy of the gods of promotion over at Jim Beam land and their small batch collection. It was, I gather, created for regular Knob Creek bourbon, but what I actually got was Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and an old favorite, Basil Hayden’s. It’s a very interesting spread because both of these are thoroughly adult, sophisticated bourbons but at vastly differing strengths. Hayden’s is 80 proof, actually below average strength for an upscale bourbon but well above average in flavor and drinkability. The Knob Creek Single Barrel is a whopping 120 proof and has a full 10 percent more alcohol than regular 100 proof Knob Creek. It’s definitely the good stuff but not for the faint of heart or liver.

I’m delighted to say that both extremes held up brilliantly in a Big and Stout. Sure, the complexity and pure fire of the 120 proof brew gave all the sweet ingredients something they could fight against for a somewhat more complex beverage. Still, the 80 proof Hayden’s was a delight and anything but insipid. I also tried a pretty decent 94 proof brand X bourbon and it was great, too. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining any bourbon failing with this one, and I’m contemplating giving rye a chance.

As for the stout’s, the original recipe called for sweet stouts but that turned out to be nearly impossible to find here in L.A.’s NoHo/San Fernando Valley land. Milk stouts, which have a sweeter flavor thanks largely to some lactose, are much easier to come by and may or may not be synonymous with sweet stouts, I’m still trying to figure that one out. My choices were Moo Thunder Farmhouse Ale and Belching Beaver Brewery’s Beaver Milk. Gotta love the names and both worked really winningly.

Trying to figure out why I like this drink so much may go beyond a simple love of sweet, creamy, ice-cold refreshing booze flavors and have something to do with my love of coffee…which I actually prefer with a decent amount of milk and sweetener, despite my alleged gourmet tendencies and tolerance/love for bitter flavors. Even more than the similar yet very different Coffee Cocktail, this drink really looks and tastes a bit it like a frozen latte but with a very different impact. Maybe that’s it.