Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Blennheim (and The Avengers)

"And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, The Avengers were born - to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, but their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, then - for now, The Avengers assemble!" (Prologue to every Avengers issue in the 1970's)

Ok, so on top of being a cocktail nerd, I'm also a music, film, computer game, and yes, comic book nerd. This Friday is a perfect opportunity to combine comics and cocktails to commemorate the North American release of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers."

About a month ago, my brother asked me if I knew any cocktails specifically created in 1963 because his friend was going to throw an Avengers party, and not being able to think of any off the top of my head, I had to start researching. It ended up being quite a challenge as the 60's seemed like the beginning of the end of good cocktails, and not only was it very difficult to find anything new from that era, the only few I did find were terrible and had no specific birth date. So I approached it from a different angle, looking for specific names and personalities at the world's top bars, and I was able to track down one name - Joe Gilmore. He was the head bartender at the Savoy Hotel in London from 1955 until 1976, during which time he did invent numerous cocktails that achieved some popularity, and was famously the apprentice of the one and only Harry Craddock. Again, the problem was pinpointing dates on these drinks, as he never wrote a book collecting his recipes, and any that were created for a specific occasion were somewhat vague. There are a handful from specific dates a little later on - including his most famous, the "Moonwalk," from 1969 - but most of them are from the 1970's and not useful here. However, he did create a drink for Winston Churchill's 90th birthday (finally a date I could figure out) in November 1964, which does well enough for me with Avengers #1 being released through Marvel Comics in September 1963. (I did find another from 1965 with brandy, Cointreau, and Champagne, but this was later and less interesting, and I also found that the "Saketini" was first unveiled at the World's Fair in 1964 by a Japanese chef, but gin, sake, and an olive is again not very interesting). Yes, I've jumped from America to England, but oh well.

The cocktail was named "The Blennheim," or "The Four Score and Ten" (i.e. 90), and was composed of brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, Lillet (Kina Lillet at the time), orange juice, and Dubonnet. One could argue that it's a variation on a Bronx cocktail, with the Lillet filling in as dry vermouth, Dubonnet as sweet, switching gin for brandy, leaving orange juice as is, and throwing some Chartreuse in there to make things interesting. Using the current recipe for Lillet will probably make a drink that's too sweet, so for those of you in the States, use Cocchi Americano, which is made from a recreated recipe of Kina Lillet. 

The Blennheim

3 parts brandy (1.5oz)
2 parts Yellow Chartreuse (1oz)
1 part Lillet (0.5oz)
1 part orange juice (0.5oz)
1 part Dubonnet (0.5oz)

Combine ingredients with ice, shake, and strain into a cocktail glass.

Stop. Comic time.
Marvel actually dates back to the 1930's under the name "Timely Publications," (which included the original Captain America series) but in the early 1960's became its own brand, releasing some science fiction titles and its first superhero stories via The Fantastic Four. Soon after came Spider-Man, Iron-Man, The Hulk, and some other more forgettable series, ultimately leading to a cross-over of all the heroes in a new series entitled "The Avengers" released in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The original lineup was Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Wasp, Thor, and The Hulk, who banded together after collectively defeating the Asgardian god, Thor's brother, Loki. Lineup changes occurred as early as the second issue, when Ant-Man becomes Giant Man and the Hulk leaves, realizing how dangerous and unstable he is. Feeling guilty, the others chase after him, leading them not only into combat with another villain, but also to discover Captain America frozen in ice in the north Atlantic.

I should perhaps take a moment to mention that Captain America's publication history actually dates back to 1941 as a propaganda figure of sorts fighting the Axis during WWII. In the 1950's, Cap continued on to fight "The Reds" during the Cold War, but due to a decline in popularity, was written-off in an amazing way: Cap (who was later explained to be multiple people to reconcile incongruencies in character, but that's not unusual for a comic-hero) became extremely paranoid, blaming all manner of innocent people of being communist sympathizers and forcing the U.S. government to commit him to cryogenic storage until a cure for this mental illness could be found.

Like most classic comic book hero stories, things get extremely complicated and convoluted quite quickly. Many, many members come and go (including Hawkeye and Black Widow, who show up a little later in the 1960's, but right away in the new Avengers movie), along with villains, and fairly confusing plot-lines. Despite not being the first Avenger, Captain America was the longest-standing, and as far as I'm aware, the only member who hasn't resigned (in the 2000's, several events encompassing the entire Marvel universe broke up the Avengers and created new Avenger-type groups, etc, but I won't get into this).

So, super groups tend to suck (see: Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, Chickenfoot, etc), and both DC's Justice League and Marvel's Avengers aren't exactly the best of their respective catalogues, BUT, there has always been great potential there because the groups are made up of interesting individual characters, particularly those of Marvel which was famous and influential for having complicated and flawed heroes. The Hulk and Iron Man are kind of tragic figures, and if anyone is going to exploit this, and also get some big laughs out of Thor and Robert Downey Jr., it's going to be Joss Whedon, the man behind some of the greatest television ever - Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, among many other (Oscar-winning) writing credits and the films "Serenity" and "Cabin in the Woods." As well, for you comic nerds out there, you're probably also aware of how great his run on Astonishing X-Men is too, and if you're not a comic nerd, that's a good place to start your X-Men adventure because it's super accessible, hilarious, and poignant - as his writing often is (see also: "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog").

So let us tip our hats and drink to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for being so influential in the evolution of the graphic novel, Joss Whedon for being influential in both television and in writing strong female characters (and for creating all of my closest friends), and to Joe Gilmore for his cocktails, experience, and contribution to bartending.
See you at The Avengers on Friday ;)

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