Vintage Cocktails for Cinematic Soirées
Although Utah might be known more for kid-friendly “trunk or treat” candy raids in church parking lots than boozy costume parties, that reputation is changing. Last Halloween, several downtown SLC bars collaborated on costume-mandatory bar crawls, making for even more grown-up opportunities to get out and about in your favorite get-up on All Hallow’s Eve. But for those choosing to keep the revelry close to home, might we suggest a movie-night theme? Bring a bit of the silver screen to your spooky soirée this year with sippers built with your favorite cinematic trope at the forefront. From alien invasions to pillaging pirates, these spins on vintage cocktails are as delicious as they are dramatic.
There might be as many great sangria recipes as there are blood-bath-themed vampire movies and slasher films combined. Apropos, as the Spanish word for blood is sangre. Wine punches have been enjoyed across Europe for centuries (think Jane Austen’s ubiquitous Claret Cup punch), but particularly so in Spain and Portugal. Sangria became popular in the U.S. after the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, where it was served in the Spanish pavilion to rave reviews. And with good reason: Sangria makes for an almost-perfect party standard, easily mixed up beforehand with simple ingredients. While Rioja is the traditional wine used for sangria in Spain, wines like Bordeaux or cabernet sauvignon make a lovely punch; the addition of brandy, a touch of fruit juice and whatever fruit you might like make a pretty forgiving platform for the base wine. Might we even suggest, as Hannibal Lecter did with his oft-quoted liver-and-fava-bean meal in Silence of the Lambs, you use Chianti?
Sangria (serves 6-8)
1/3 cup brandy
1 bottle (750 ml.) red wine
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup red grapes, halved
2 clementines, sliced into rounds
2 black plums, pitted and sliced thinly
1 can blood orange soda (such as San Pellegrino aranciata rossa)
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher, classic punch bowl or cast iron cauldron (in this case, my vintage bean pot).
Add large blocks or spheres of ice to keep the punch cold but slow melting.
How many of our favorite horror stories start with, “It was a dark and stormy night…”? According to the manufacturers of Gosling’s Rum—a key ingredient in the classic Dark ’n’ Stormy—British sailors stationed in Bermuda during WWI mixed the distinctively dark-colored and flavor-deep Black Seal Rum with spicy ginger beer made on the island at the Royal Naval Officers Club. Although an image of a svelte black seal graces the modern label, the brand originally got its name from the thick black wax used to seal rum-refilled champagne bottles decanted straight from barrels at the distillery. Gosling’s claims that the famous cocktail name came from an old sailor, who when looking into his glass said it was “the colour of a cloud only a fool or dead man would sail under.”
Full disclosure: The recipe printed here is definitively not a classic Dark ’n’ Stormy, a trademark vigorously enforced by Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. Their concoction—hailed as the national drink of Bermuda—specifically calls for 1½ ounces of their rum over ice in a highball glass and topped with ginger beer; as several famous bars and cocktail bloggers can attest, using any other booze brand when making a Dark ’n’ Stormy will promptly get you a cease and desist letter. (Sorry, Gosling’s, but Devour’s pockets aren’t that deep). This spooky cocktail goes to the dark side with addition of squid ink—a tip picked up from Copper Common bartender Ross Richardson—to create a distinctively dramatic black hue with a subtle saline note. Bonus: An optional split black fig garnish represents the dark “heart” of the sea. These dusky drinks are a perfect addition to sip along with a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea film-fest.
A Dark (and Stormy) Night
1½ ounces Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
½ ounce diluted black squid ink*
2 ounces ginger beer
Juice of a ¼ lime
To a hurricane glass filled with cracked ice, add all ingredients.
Stir briefly to combine; garnish with a split fig.
*Squid ink is available at many specialty markets, but the viscous liquid must be diluted with up to an equal part water and strained to make it smooth enough for cocktails.
From the cantina scene in the original Star Wars to indigo-hued Romulan ale illegally imbibed in almost every corner of the Star Trek Federation, the universal galactic theme remains: Drinks throughout the cosmos are apparently as violently colored as they are potent. And there are quite a few alien-themed cocktails fitting that description found through the time-sucking wormhole called Pinterest: the Area 51 Jägermeister-based shooter, the Alien Brain Hemorrhage (which is as disgusting looking as it sounds) and the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (thanks, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). So, while there might not be very many tasty vintage cocktails built around a sci-fi theme, we certainly have lots of vibrant and kitschy precedent for making a cocktail that packs quite a visual wow-factor.
This original cocktail includes some flavors of classic beach drinks like the rum-forward Blue Hawaii, but made with Pisco, a brandy distilled in South America from white muscat grapes and easily identified on the shelf by the famous black Easter Island head bottle shape (a nod to our friends who watch way too much Ancient Aliens on the History Channel). Enlist some early party arrivals to help make “alien eyeball” garnishes by inserting maraschino cherries into whole peeled and pitted lychee fruit. Booze Geek Bonus: Add a splash of tonic water to the cocktail; the quinine naturally found in tonic water glows quite dramatically under black lights.
1½ ounces Pisco
½ ounce white rum
¾ ounce blue curaçao
¾ ounce pineapple juice
juice of a ½ lime
To a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients.
Shake until tin is very frosty. Drizzle some grenadine or Luxardo cherry syrup into the bottom of a laboratory beaker or highball glass; swirl to coat the bottom of the glass.
Strain the cocktail into the glass over a large ice sphere.
Garnish with “eyeball” lychee fruit stuffed with cherries.
Cue the eerie theremin soundtrack.
Glamorous, elegant and subtly floral, a WWII-era Arsenic and Old Lace cocktail fits the bill when streaming dark poison-trope comedies like Heathers (1988) or the 1944 film staring Cary Grant after which the cocktail was named. A popular favorite of community theater troupes since playwright Joseph Kesselring opened the Broadway play in 1939, Arsenic and Old Lace tells the slapstick dark comedy story of Mortimer Brewster, a young man who goes back to visit the elderly aunts (Abby and Martha) who raised him through childhood. He discovers that they are killing off lonely old bachelors to end their presumptively “suffering” singlehood by serving them a soupçon of arsenic, strychnine and cyanide mixed in elderberry wine.
Unlike Abby and Martha’s erstwhile cocktail of carnage, this drink is a stiff yet floral version of a martini, best made with a very traditional London dry gin so that the flowery tones don’t get too overwhelming. This is a cocktail that should smell slightly like perfume without tasting like it. Most cocktail historians note its similarity to the gin and violet liqueur-based Aviation, with the addition of anise notes from absinthe. Break out Grandma’s vintage crystal for that extra-dramatic presentation.
Arsenic & Old Lace
1½ ounces London dry gin
½ ounce dry vermouth
¼ ounce crème de violette
A splash of absinthe
To a mixing glass with ice, add the gin, vermouth and crème de violette; stir until well chilled.
Add a generous splash of absinthe to a pre-chilled coupe glass, swirl to coat the entire inside of the glass and pour out the excess.
Strain the gin mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
Zap the surface of the cocktail with the oil expressed from a piece of lemon zest and drop the zest into the drink.
It’s magically delicious.