07.29.11

Lights, Camera, Cocktails

A mixed drink to match a genre-busting film like 'Cowboys & Aliens' must come from someone in a city as over the top as Las Vegas and someone as skilled as mixologist Jeremy Merritt.

It’s fair to be at least a little hesitant about wanting to see the sci-fi Western hybrid coming out this weekend with a name as obvious and corny sounding as Cowboys & Aliens.

Gee, wonder what this one’s about?

It’s very likely you feel unprepared to open your arms to this film. Westerns are traditionally set in the second half of the 19th century and in the American Old West. While this film meets those two specific qualifiers—the action takes place in Arizona in 1873—the cowboy heroes of the old Westerns like Stagecoach and El Dorado were never forced to face angry aliens in their final showdowns.

But remember, this is not the first perversion of the genre.

“Spaghetti” Westerns proved to be a very popular subgenre when they first debuted in the mid-1960s, fusing American and Italian filmmaking and given this playful moniker because they were filmed in Europe and directed by Italians. Though initially they seemed to fly in the face of the Western tradition, spaghetti Westerns helped launch the career of Clint Eastwood, arguably one of the most beloved actors of all time.

Musicals and cowboys were also properly blended together in the singing cowboy movies that helped propel Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to stardom and launch their admirably lucrative music recording careers.

Subsequently we’ve seen others fiddling with the Western genre, giving women and Native Americans stronger, less stereotypical roles in movies that were classified as “revisionist” Westerns. One of the most famous outlaws battled the most famous vampire in the “horror” Western 1966’s Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.  And then there is the previously unexplored cowboy-on-cowboy subject matter in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain.

Sure, not every critic is going to warmly receive an over-the-top, unrealistic fusion of two starkly different genres, though you should know that Roger Ebert, who has been reviewing almost everything since 1967, did call it “ambitious and well made.” ’Nuff said.

Thus, to arm potential audience members with a few more details about this new hybrid cowboy film, which adds another chapter to the relatively fresh science fiction–Western subgenre, here are a few facts you might like to know as you’re evaluating its worthiness.

Roger Ebert, who has been reviewing almost everything since 1967, did call it “ambitious and well made.”

- Jon Favreau, originally known as an actor, is also quite adept at directing big-budget action movies. He’s responsible for Iron Man and its 2010 sequel.

- There is no evidence that Favreau referred to the Olsen twins’ 1994 TV movie How the West Was Fun as inspiration for this project, but we’ll try not to hold this against him too much. Probably just a small oversight.

- If you’re proud to be a vegan and believe in supporting other vegans, you should know Olivia Wilde is a vegan. (We refuse to cheapen this dialogue by reminding you how ridiculously hot she is or by name-dropping superficial awards she’s received for her looks, like snagging the No. 1 spot on Maxim’s 2009 Hot 100 List. That’s absolutely beneath us. We will not mention that we regularly have to dabble drool off of our male co-workers’ chins when they’re watching reruns of all the episodes of House M.D. she has been in. Not in this space, no sir.)

- Rest assured, the beef between Harrison Ford's and Daniel Craig’s characters in this film is not because Craig’s character stole Ford’s hat from the Indiana Jones franchise.

- Not to ruin anything, but don’t worry … that mysterious bracelet that Craig’s character wakes up wearing and can’t explain is not the made-for-the-wrist version of the ankle-monitoring bracelet Lindsay Lohan wore and popularized in 2010 and brought back into fashion earlier this year. See! You’re safe from that obnoxiously of-the-moment pop-culture reference.

In the end, Cowboys & Aliens will require an open-minded viewer, willing to make the leap and appreciate the film at the very least for its bold attempt at creating a new subgenre of a seemingly inexhaustible style. 

Afraid we’d end up with a blue Curaçao cocktail if we chose The Smurfs movie as our cocktail inspiration this week, we went for the less obvious choice of Cowboys & Aliens and asked a creative cocktailing connoisseur to provide us with a fitting drink for this flick. Located in a city that understands big and over-the-top and not too far from the Area 51 military base that stars in many eerie stories about UFO sightings and encounters, mixologist Jeremy Merritt of Las Vegas’s Downtown Cocktail Room provided a recipe for a drink that’s sure to be an alien experience for your taste buds.

This particular recipe requires a bit more skill—and patience.

“I first infused Alien tequila with tobacco,” Merrit explains. “Then I selected Bulleit rye whisky and thought, with the heavy whisky-drinking days of cowboys and the name of this brand being Bulliet, it was a natural fit. I also wanted a green shade to the cocktail, and lemon verbena syrup and fresh lime juice provided that alienish shade I was looking for. To give the cocktail a deep savory cowboy/alien essence, I added sliced green onions with celery salt. And to bring both worlds together I added an egg into the mix. Thinking of campfires and hot peppers in the desert dirt, I made a smoked-chipotle rim. Finally, I used a rambutan to give the effect that a tumble weed alien was coming out of the cocktail.”

Area 51’s Horse Pucky
Created by Jeremy Merritt of Downtown Cocktail Room
3 thin slices of green onion
¾ oz. lemon verbena syrup*
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1½ oz. tobacco-infused Alien tequila**
1 oz. Bulleit rye whisky
¾ oz. egg white
Pinch of celery salt
Garnish: smoked chipotle dust*** and one rambutan

Combine green onion, lemon verbena syrup and fresh lime juice, then muddle. Add the remaining ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled snifter glass, rimmed with smoked-chipotle dust. Once strained and the egg white has settled to the top, cut one rambutan in half, remove seeds, and place it pit side down in the middle of the cocktail.
 *To make the lemon verbena syrup: make simple syrup (in a saucepan bring one liter of water to a boil and add one liter of sugar; stir until dissolved) and while it is still hot, throw in one small branch of fresh lemon verbena, leaves removed, and let simmer for two minutes. Then turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Strain through a chinois or cheesecloth and let stand to cool. Do not keep lemon verbena in too long or it will give the syrup a bitter quality.
**To infuse tequila with tobacco: take ½ of a pouch of Redman chewing tobacco and place into one 750 ml bottle of tequila. Let sit for one week, shaking daily; strain through a chinois or cheesecloth.
***To create the smoked-chipotle dust: grill chipotle peppers on a barbecue until dark with a good amount of char on them. (Don't overcook the peppers. Achieve a nice char on the skin of the pepper with quick, high temperatures.) Then dry them in a dehydrator. When dried through, grind them using a mortar and pestle.