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Deconstructing the iconic cocktails made famous by movies and TV

Thank the TV for nearly every pop culture reference you know, whether directly or indirectly. How else would you have thought of James Bond movies and the Vodka Martini when you hear the line “shaken, not stirred” or even likened the candy pink Cosmopolitan to a girly night out in Sex and the City? It’s because of the onscreen appearances of these iconic cocktails in movies that you know of them just a bit better.

Or do you?

Maybe you only know that Bond likes his martini shaken and not stirred, but you don’t understand why. Perhaps you knew of the iconic French 75 cocktail, but never knew how it got its numerical name. Or even the evolution of the Cosmopolitan cocktail, that wasn’t seen as a girly drink until Carrie Bradshaw and her posse gallivanted around the city sipping glass after glass of the sugary pink drink.

Knowledge is power, so let us educate you on how these drinks rose to popularity thanks to their onscreen appearances as well as the history behind them.

Casablanca — French 75

 

Picture: Tomatazos.com

A similar cocktail to the French 75 existed in the 19th century — one of the alleged stories dates back to World War I, when soldiers mixed their version of a highball with champagne instead of club soda. The resulting cocktail packed such a punch that they called it the French 75, inspired by the French 75mm field gun that played a part in Allied Forces’ victory.

Later in 1927, the cocktail recipe was perfected and comprised of gin, lemon juice, sugar, and champagne. It was then popularised on the Hollywood classic Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s character regularly sipped on the cocktail in the nightclub. That, coupled with the old world classiness and style of the entire movie firmly popularised the French 75.

How to make: Add two ounces of London dry gin, half an ounce of fresh lemon juice, one teaspoon of fine sugar, and ice in a shaker. Shake till sugar is dissolved, then strain into a champagne flute glass. Top with three ounces of chilled champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

James Bond — Vodka Martini

Picture: The Scholarly Kitchen

Did you know that the Vodka Martini was actually first known as The Kangaroo? Its origins stem all the way back to the 50s, when vodka was a relatively new spirit in American bars. Customers began requesting to swap the gin in martinis with vodka, and thus The Kangaroo — or Vodka Martini — was born. The switch in spirits made the cocktail lighter and more palatable compared to its botanical sibling.

Then, Hollywood took over. Star of Ian Fleming’s books, James Bond enjoyed his Vodka Martini very much. He famously ordered a drink at the casino’s bar in the novel Casino Royale: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

You might notice in that particular quote, Bond orders a martini using a mix of both vodka and gin. That drink would go on to be named the Vesper. Throughout the series, he orders a mix of regular and Vodka Martini, yet always prepared the same way: shaken, not stirred.

The phrase “shaken not stirred” became a household quote, cementing the popularity of the Vodka Martini. But how should you actually drink your martini — shaken or stirred? The answer lies in preference. Stirring your martini requires a longer time to get the right ratio of dilution and coldness, while shaking your martini gets it cold quickly, but also dilutes the drink faster. The latter gives off a wet martini, with the vermouth having a different mouthfeel as a result.

How to make: Combine three parts vodka, one part vermouth, and ice into a cocktail shaker. Shake till cold, then strain it into a chilled martini glass and garnish with either olives or a lemon peel.

Mad Men — Old Fashioned

 

Picture: Gentleman’s Gazette

The Old Fashioned is perhaps one of the oldest cocktails created — perhaps even the oldest one there is. The early versions of the Old Fashioned date back to nearly two centuries ago, referencing a certain “Bittered Sling” that was a combination of spirit, sugar, bitters, and water. It was then perfected and given the name “Old Fashioned” in the 1880s, appearing in David A. Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” and was also accepted as an IBA (International Bartenders Association) Official Cocktail.

As with most classic cocktails, they tend to fade into oblivion with the times, only to resurface when someone in pop culture brings it up. For the Old Fashioned, it was the TV series Mad Men, set in the 60s. Main character Don Draper likens it to his beverage of choice, and the cocktail was seen often throughout the series. We can’t deny that Draper looks extra fine in his many suits while knocking back an Old Fashioned. When the series concluded, the cocktail rose again in popularity. You’ve probably even ordered one for yourself thanks to Mad Men.

How to make: Place one sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass and saturate with two dashes of Angostura bitters, then add a dash of plain water. Muddle until sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add one and a half ounces of bourbon or rye whisky. Garnish with an orange slice.

The Big Lebowski — White Russian

 

Picture: Supercall

The White Russian is an evolution of the Black Russian cocktail, with the former named as such thanks to the addition of cream into the vodka-based cocktail. The latter was created in 1949 by a Belgian bartender named Gustave Tops as a tribute to Perle Mesta, who was the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg then. Weirdly enough, it is not of Russian origins — the name was inspired by the use of vodka in the cocktail.

The popularity of the cocktail then spread, evolving into the White Russian when someone, somewhere decided to add cream into the mix of vodka and coffee liqueur. The hype died down until 1998 when crime comedy movie The Big Lebowski featured the cocktail. The White Russian was the protagonist’s beverage of choice, and Jeff Bridges’ character even calls it “The Caucasian”. In fact, he was seen with the cocktail so often that fans even counted the number of White Russians he knocked back to a total of nine throughout the film.

How to make: Add five parts vodka and two parts coffee liqueur into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Pour three parts fresh cream or milk on the top and stir slowly.

Sex and the City — Cosmopolitan

 

Picture: Babe.net

The Cosmopolitan descended from the Daisy cocktail, which had very similar components to the Cosmopolitan that we know and love today. In the early beginnings, the Daisy was made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and raspberry syrup and dated back to the 1930s. The modern reiteration now known as the Cosmopolitan was rebirthed in the mid-80s thanks to the invention of Absolut Citron, which replaced the former lemon-infused spirit.

However, the modern inventor of the Cosmopolitan still remains unclear, as there are several articles that point to different people creating similar reiterations of the cocktail. The general consensus is that three people have claimed the title of creator of the Cosmopolitan: Miami-based bartender Cheryl Cook who supposedly created the original recipe, followed by Toby Cecchini from New York and Dale DeGroff who was also from New York. The cocktail then made its rounds in popular New York bars and became synonymous with the gay scene.

Later on, in the late 90s, the drink rose to an immense success when Sex and the City regularly featured the feel-good party drink in its popular series. Its main characters, Carrie Bradshaw and her group of friends often hopped around Manhattan sipping glass after glass of the Cosmopolitan. Perhaps that’s why the drink became synonymous with a “girly” cocktail, best enjoyed in the company of girlfriends.

How to make: Take one and a half ounce of citrus vodka, half ounce Cointreau, 10 ounces of cranberry juice, and a quarter ounce of fresh lime juice. Combine all into an ice-filled shaker, shake well, and then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

 

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.