Friday, April 22, 2011

How Classics Endure: Movies & Cocktails



Which stirs my passions more? Classic films or classic cocktails? It’s too hard to decide – and that’s why I’m glad The Astor Center in New York City recently presented a wonderful class called, “Classic Cocktails, Classic Film”, a cocktail course brilliantly presented by Nora Maynard. The class combined mixology with cinematic greats and please believe me when I tell you it was a lovely way to spend a Friday evening – for fans of classic cocktails, classic movies and especially both!

To start things off were martinis and Gibsons – we were actually treated to a pre-mixed Gibson prior to viewing a clip of “The Thin Man” from 1934, although the clip we viewed was of an “instructional video” of how to make a martini … .



The significance of the emphasis of alcohol in this movie was based on its timing: the movie was made in 1934 and Prohibition ended only a year before in 1933, so people were eager to catch up on experiencing all of the alcohol they had been missing in the previous years.

Then, we sipped a Gibson while we viewed a clip from the movie “All About Eve” – make sure to look out for a young Marilyn Monroe in a small role while watching this scene!




The Gibson was a variation on the martini and was said to have been named after an illustrator named Charles David Gibson, who was known for drawing something that became known as “The Gibson Girl” – a picture of a young woman with loose hair which was tied up on top of the girl’s head. He used to drink regularly at a place called “The Player’s Club”, which was located in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan. The Gibson we sampled this evening was made the same way the Martini was made in “The Thin Man” – 3 parts gin (Plymouth) to 1 part dry vermouth, but instead of garnishing with an olive, you use a cocktail onion.

In the 1954 film “Sabrina” (directed by the great Billy Wilder) there is a scene where an older gentleman is in Humphrey Bogart’s office and encounters immense difficulty when trying to mix a Dirty Martini because he can’t quite get the olive out of its narrow jar. The Dirty Martini is a martini made with the olive juice from the olive jar.



The cocktail called The Manhattan is celebrated in another Billy Wilder movie, “Some Like It Hot” from 1959. The Manhattan has been around since the 19th century; a whiskey cocktail, it was originally made with rye, but in the post-Prohibition era, it was made with bourbon, which gives it a natural sweetness due to the fact that it’s predominantly made of corn. Perhaps best with sweet vermouth and bitters, here’s something of a makeshift version from the movie …




“Live & Let Die” was a James Bond movie starring Roger Moore – in it, he went to a bar called The Fillet of Soul where the Sazerac cocktail was featured.



The Sazerac is widely regarded as the first cocktail. It was invented by Emil Peychaud (of bitters fame) in 1830 New Orleans. An apothecary, Peychaud worked with roots, bark and herbs to create bitters that provide an additional flavor/aromatic profile different from Angostura. The drink contains a rinse of absinthe, which was made legal in the United States relatively recently (2007). If possible, use an atomizer to add the absinthe because it’s there primarily to enhance the aroma with its anise.

“The Nutty Professor” starred Jerry Lewis as Buddy Love, the “Mr. Hyde” of his “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” dual roles; some consider the character to be a representation of Lewis’ former partner and Rat Pack member Dean Martin. The movie introduces a fictitious cocktail called The Alaskan Polar Bear Heater; the instructor provided us with the recipe, but was quick to add that when she tried it for some guests once, it was poorly reviewed -- as a result, she does not recommend this one.



A movie titled “Dead Reckoning”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott is the definitive film noir style and it seems to favor The Ramos Gin Fizz – something I like to think of as “The Milkshake Of Adult Beverages” due to its combination of egg whites and cream that give it a thick, frothy consistency. One of the problems with making this drink, however, is the fact that it’s labor intensive – you have to shake the mixture a long time in order to make it properly. In fact, the instructor said that the best way to tell if you’ve made it well is by inserting a straw in the middle – if it stands up straight on its own without tipping over, then that means it’s good and thick.



Finally, The White Russian was featured in the cult hit “The Big Lebowski”. In terms of preparation, this, I assure you, was a welcomed respite after breaking a sweat over making the Ramos Gin Fizz. By comparison, this is incredibly simple to make – to say nothing of quick – which almost makes sense as to why the character of The Dude liked it so much. After all, this is something of a slacker’s recipe and Dude was a slacker himself.



Got any other classic movies with classic cocktails? If so, then please be sure to leave a comment to share with the rest of us!

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