This Oscar Sunday, enjoy a cocktail Hollywood-style, like Mae West in 1937’s ‘Every Day’s A Holiday.’ Photo by Paramount/Getty Images.
Alcohol has often held a starring role on the silver screen. Academy Award-nominated actress Greta Garbo opened the 1930 film “Anna Christine” (her first part in a “talkie” film) with the immortal words “Gimme a whisky, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby!” Cocktails conjure visions of old Hollywood glamour and sophistication, but can also elicit panic from hosts and hostesses less versed in the art of drink-making.
To assuage any worries over the best ways to make and serve cocktails, we turned to three experts in the liquor field: Lesley Blume, writer, journalist, cultural observer and author of Let’s Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition; Steve Walton, head bartender at High West Distillery and Saloon in Park City, Utah; and New York based mixologist and beer sommelier Hayley Jensen. We get their entertaining tips, recipes for Oscar tie-in cocktails, and a little history of drinking in Hollywood.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
The first Academy Awards were held in 1928 in the midst of prohibition. Even though it was illegal, Hollywood was deeply steeped in drinking culture. It was an age of speakeasies. According to Blume, Hollywood has had a huge influence on drinking habits because people drank what they saw people drinking in movies.
Popular actors and actresses of the time like Charlie Chaplin and Mae West had drinks named in their honor. The Mae West contains the unlikely combination of brandy, half an egg yolk, sugar, and cayenne pepper. Blume says the ingredients match West perfectly: strong, boozy and velvety.
Best Leading Role at a Party
One of the most common dilemmas in party planning is “how much (fill in the blank) do I need?”
“Get heaps and heaps of ice,” warns Lesley Blume. “You always need twice as much ice as you think you do.” For glassware, Blume suggests stocking up with two times the amount of glasses as guests. Arm yourself with the appropriate equipment for cocktail-making. Steve Walton suggests a Boston shaker, a muddler (for crushing ingredients such as mint, allowing flavors and aromas to be extracted) and a jigger (a tool to measure alcohol for a drink).
Hayley Jensen says if possible, make some of the drinks ahead of time. One of her signature cocktails, “The President,” inspired by the movie “Lincoln,” has a base of hard cider, and can be served in a punch bowl. “Everyone can gather around the punch bowl, which provides a conversation piece and an ice breaker,” Jensen says.
When deciding how much alcohol to buy for your shindig, Blume says allot three drinks per attendee. But don’t forget to also serve some food or else you may get to see some real drama.
What does it take to make a good cocktail?
“It’s all about measurement,” says Walton. “The biggest mistake people make is not measuring the ingredients. It’s exactly like baking in this respect.”
This is where the jigger comes in handy. A jigger has two unequal sized opposing cones in an hourglass shape. Usually, one side measures 0.5 oz, the other 1 oz. By using a jigger, you ensure that you are creating a consistent cocktail.
Blume and Jensen both agree that hosts should focus on one or two cocktails to serve, to preserve the integrity of the drinks and the hosts’ sanity.
Walton says a good rule of thumb is that citrus-based cocktails are shaken, alcohol-forward drinks such as martinis are stirred, contrary to James Bond’s signature drink order.
Best Art Direction
Making your party memorable does not require a long acceptance speech at the end of the night.
Blume suggests an impressive presentation that is simple and hearkens back to the roaring ’20s: a champagne tower using coupe glasses. Blume advises stacking the coup glasses (not flutes) in a round pyramind. Then pour Champagne or Prosecco into the top-most glass, allowing the bubbly to overflow and stream down into the descending coupes.
For “highly stylized D.I.Y.,” touches like customized cocktail napkins (available online) or tables decorated with wine bottles with art deco labels will set your performance apart, Blume says.
For your drinking pleasure, below are the recipes that coincide with the time periods and tastes of a few Academy nominated films:
_The Blue Blazer_- Invented around 1850 by Prof. Jerry Thomas, the father of American mixology. During the time of Lincoln’s presidency, American mixology became “a thing.” Blume says, this was a time of starched white shirts and diamond cufflinks. “There was a lot of care and high expectations to produce a fantastic cocktail,” says Walton.
Try your hand at the Blue Blazer. Warning: It does involve some pyrotechnics.
2 heated mugs
2 1/2 ounces boiling water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 ounces heated Scotch
1 lemon peel twist for garnish
In the first mug, dissolve the sugar in boiling water. In the other
mug, pour the whiskey and set it on fire. Pour the ingredients
from one mug to another. As Thomas wrote in The Bon Vivant’s
Companion, “If well done this will have the appearance of a
continued stream of liquid fire.” Pour the mixture into a heated
wineglass and adorn with the lemon peel twist. Make sure that your home insurance policy is intact.
Recipe courtesy of Lesley M.M. Blume and Chronicle Books.
The President – Hayley Jensen suggests serving this hard cider-based drink in a punchbowl for ease and it also allows guests to mingle and break the cocktail ice. Hard cider was a popular drink during Lincoln’s presidency, and he was known to enjoy it in the White House.
1/2 oz raspberry liqueur
1/2 oz orange liqueur
2 orange slices
8 oz Angry Orchard Apple Ginger
Muddle orange slices in pint glass. Fill glass with ice. Add liqueurs and cider. Pour into mixing cup & back into pint glass or into a punch bowl. Garnish with orange slice.
“French cocktails use mostly gin and champagne,” says Steve Walton. For a drink that combines some of those elements, check out a High West signature drink, “The Cowgirl Kiss.”
1.5 oz High West 7000 Vodka
1 oz pomegranate juice
1 oz champagne
Add vodka and pom juice to cocktail shaker, shake, pour into a chilled martini glass, top off with champagne.
The Rolls Royce — A symbol of sophisticated, posh, glamourous living, which epitomized 1970s Hollywood. Here’s recipe that’s best drunk in a breezy caftan.
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce French vermouth
1/2 ounce Italian vermouth
1 dash Benedictine
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The hand with which you grip this glass should be absolutely heaving with rocks—whether real or aspirational.
Recipe courtesy of Lesley M.M. Blume and Chronicle Books
“Silver Lining Playbook”
Walton suggests this drink for whiskey novices. High West Silver Oat whiskey un-aged, meaning it doesn’t need barrel time. The whiskey has tequila and vodka-like qualities. Give this a whirl with High West’s signature “Cochise” cocktail.
1.5 oz High West Silver Oat Whiskey
1 oz fresh grapefruit Juice
0.5 oz Fresh Lime Juice
0.5 oz Demerara Simple Syrup
2 slices of Fresh Ginger
Muddle fresh ginger, grapefruit, lime and simple syrup, add Silver Oat Whiskey, shake and pour over ice in bucket glass, garnish with a grapefruit slice.
Classics That Never Fade
_The Mae West_— As Lesley Blume says, this drink totally epitomized its namesake: strong, boozy, and velvety.
1 ounce brandy
1/2 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 dash cayenne pepper
Shake the brandy, egg yolk, and sugar with ice and strain
into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the dash of cayenne pepper
and a dollop of naughtiness.
Recipe courtesy of Lesley M.M. Blume and Chronicle Books
Manhattan — Steve Walton says you can’t go wrong with a classic Manhattan. It’s a classic drink and pairs well with a tuxedo.
1.5 oz High West Rendezvous Rye
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Add ingredients to pint glass and stir with ice, pour into chilled martini or rocks glass (personal preference) and garnish with a brandied soaked cherry.
Simple Syrup — As vital to many cocktails as gold is to Oscars. Using simple syrup, as opposed to putting sugar directly into a cocktail, assures that an un-chic, sugary film will not collect in the glass.
One part sugar
One part hot water
Dissolve the sugar into the boiling water, preferably in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Once the sugar is dissolved completely, remove the pan from the heat. Cool to room temperature. Use in your favorite cocktails, such as the “Cochise.” Can be stored in the refrigerator for one month.