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Shaken, not stirred

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The White Russian cocktail has become popular again thanks to its starring role in <i>The Big Lebowski</i>.

The White Russian cocktail has become popular again thanks to its starring role in The Big Lebowski. Photo: Domino Postiglione

Mixed drinks are often the unsung stars of the big screen. From Casablanca to Anchorman, and Some Like it Hot to Swingers, cocktails and other potent potables often play significant supporting roles.

The drinks ordered and consumed speak volumes about the characters involved and more oft than not act as a catalyst to a romantic plot, a character's downfall or self-realisation. Many a potion has made its way onto the screen but here's a few of the more memorable cocktail moments from the last 25 years.

The Vesper (aka James Bond Martini) – Casino Royale, 2006

You knew this one was coming. James Bond is perhaps the most famous cocktail quaffing movie character of all time. Bond is a man's man – a sole agent, at times chauvinistic, but always a hit with the ladies. It's hard to imagine that men would still drink cocktails at all if it wasn't for Bond's sterling on screen example. 

Due credit must be given to author Ian Fleming whose book Casino Royale was first published in 1953. His eye to detail when it comes to drinks is second to none. The 'Vesper' cocktail, which Bond eventually names after the double agent Vesper Lynd, is made with three parts Gordon's Gin, to one part vodka and one-half part Kina Lillet (a now defunct aromatised wine from Bordeaux) shaken served with a lemon twist. The beverage is actually a clever subconscious allusion by Bond to Vesper's duplicity. Whilst she outwardly appears to be working for MI6 she later betrays Bond for MVD – the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Just like the drink of her name-sake, Vesper is three parts English to one part Russian.

You can still order this drink in bars today though you will have to opt for Lillet Blanc, or better still Cocchi Americano. Order it stirred rather than shaken though – as usual Bond was just trying to be outrageous with the whole 'shaken, not stirred' thing – he always was a bit of a rogue agent.

The White Russian (aka Caucasian) - The Big Lebowski, 1998
The White Russian is the favourite drink of Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski - an aging dead-beat played by Jeff Bridges in the Cohen Brothers movie The Big Lebowski. The Dude's chief pastimes include wearing bad cardigans and dressing gowns, bowling, drinking and avoiding doing any serious work. The Caucasian, as the Dude dubs his take on the White Russian, is a simple mix of coffee liqueur, vodka and milk (or cream if you're feeling indulgent). The White Russian was first reported in print in by California's Oakland Tribune on 21 November 1965, but by the '90s the beverage lacked any credibility and was close to slipping into obscurity.

The Big Lebowski never made much of an impact at the box office when it was released in 1998, but over the proceeding years it developed a real cult following. In the words of Rolling Stone the movie became "the most worshipped comedy of its generation" and on its coat tails the White Russian has seen a resurgence in popularity. The New York Times reported the return of the White Russian in 2008, with events like New York's Lebowski Fest attracting over 1,000 'achievers' to a local bowling alley to quaff Caucasians.

While the drink has achieved a 'cult status' -  it's still likely to raise the ire of any serious bartender from whom you order it today – my advice would be to indulge in this one at home or at the bowling alley. Preferably in your dressing gown.

White Russian
2 parts Russian vodka
1 part coffee liqueur
2 parts half & half (half milk and half cream)
Build in a tumbler over ice. Consume whilst letting your inner dude abide.

Red Eye – Cocktail, 1988
Cocktail is the quintessential bartending movie. There's not a single bartender around who hasn't been compared (much to their annoyance) to Tom Cruise's character – Brian Flanagan – since. The movie was a huge box office success, but despite its popularity received mostly negative reviews from critics winning two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay while Tom Cruise was nominated as Worst Actor and Roger Donaldson as Worst Director. The first cocktail whipped up by Brian's mentor – Doug Coughlin – is the Red Eye, a hangover cure combining tomato juice, beer and, in Doug's variation, a whole raw egg. The egg is a liberty taken by the film. For a far more palatable beverage mix three parts lager to one part chilled tomato juice and a squeeze of lemon. Better yet opt for a Michelada.

Michelada
In a salt rimmed beer glass add:
Juice of half a lime
60ml tomato juice
1tsp Worcestershire sauce
Plenty of hot sauce to taste – like Tabasco or Cholula
Lots of ice
Lager beer to top

Mint Julep – Thank You for Smoking, 2005
Thank You for Smoking is a film that studies amiable evil. And in my mind the are few more evil substances as amiable as demon drink. The cacodemonic tobacco boss known as The Captain (Robert Duvall) informs Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) early on in the film on the proper way to construct a Mint Julep:

"You know the secret to a really good julep? Crush the mint down into the ice with your thumb and grind it in. Releases the menthol...You know who taught me that?," confides the Captain, "Fidel Castro".

Nearly choking on his drink, Naylor is in an obvious state of panic trying to come up with the right facial expression in reply to the Captain's comment – a classic moment in the film and a classic cocktail you should know how to make.

Mint Julep
90ml old Bourbon or Rye whiskey
1 tsp castor sugar
6 fresh sprigs of mint
A little spring water
Crushed ice

Gently press with your thumb the leaves from three sprigs on mint in your hand and lay in the bottom of a silver or pewter mug. Cover with sugar and dash of spring water. Stir to dissolve sugar then add your whisky of choice. Half fill your vessel with crushed ice and stir until your cup frosts. Top up with crushed ice and garnish with your three remaining sprigs of mint.

What are your favourite cocktail moments in the movies?

 

3 comments so far

  • Will make a few of these tonight!

    Commenter
    Jay
    Date and time
    March 23, 2012, 2:32PM
    • I keep hoping the Vodka Gimlet will become popular again thanks to Mad Men but doesn't seem to have happened yet! Most bar tenders have no idea what I'm talking about when I ask for one.

      Commenter
      Emma
      Location
      London
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 10:58PM
      • A barman once told me that the shaken not stirred thing is wrong because if the drink was poisoned or similar it wouldn't show it the drink was shaken only if it was stirred. Depends on the poison I guess but kinda made sense.

        Commenter
        HM
        Date and time
        April 13, 2012, 3:50PM

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