With the impending release of the new Wes Anderson film, The French Dispatch, I thought it timely to revisit one of my favorite cocktails named after the one that started it all: Bottle Rocket. Bottle Rocket was my #1 favorite movie for most of my teenage and early adult life, so when given the chance to pay homage for Pouring Ribbons' cult classics-focused Midnight Movies menu, I jumped at the opportunity.
Just in time for the summer, the Bottle Rocket is both energizing and refreshing - the perfect cocktail for all you Lawn Wranglers out there. A John Collins spiked with Yerba Mate and a hint of the tropics with the fizz and smoke of a bottle rocket. Tropical pineapple and banana flavors are paired with two different American whiskies, married by a jolt of Yerba Mate syrup and balanced with grapefruit, lime, and a little salt.
It's the perfect drink to enjoy by the pool of a rural Texas motel while you fall in love with one of the housekeepers. And really, what could be more Wes Anderson than a drink built on meticulously self-referential nods to just about every character and plot point in the film?
The Bottle Rocket is an incredibly labor-intensive recipe, but heck if it isn't delicious.
Bottle Rocket recipe
1.5 oz Pineapple Pulp Infused Mellow Corn Bonded Corn Whiskey
.25 oz Mesquite-smoked Yellow Rose American Whiskey
.5 oz Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane
.5 oz Salted Yerba Mate Syrup
.5 oz Grapefruit & Lime Cordial
.5 oz Lime Juice
1 dash Rootbeer Bitters
Bottom: 1 oz Soda Water
Ice: One Large Shard
Garnish: Grated Nutmeg & $500 Money Band
Build the cocktail in your tin. Bottom the Collins glass with the soda water and add ice. Short-shake the cocktail and fine strain into the glass. Grate the nutmeg over the top.
I knew from the start I would be basing this around a Tom Collins, a reference to Owen Wilson's passive-aggressive drink order during a pivotal scene before the climactic final heist. I also knew fellow bartender Steven Lewis was already working on a refreshing gin drink for the spring/summer menu (the kiwi & turmeric sour, Starship Troopers), so I nudged that template toward the John Collins instead.
John Collins cocktail
2 oz Genever or Whiskey
.75 oz lemon
.75 oz simple syrup
2 oz soda water
While the John Collins originally called for genever, the malty juniper-spiked distillate has more in common with whiskey than gin when it comes to functional cocktail applications. This worked out for me since I was already using New York Distilling Company's Chief Gowanus New Netherlands Gin (itself a historical approximation of the genever distilled by early Dutch colonizers) in my Escape from New York cocktail.
Once I settled on whiskey as the base, I turned to both abstract and on-the-nose references to the film to determine the rest of the ingredients. This drink was also kind of what I call a "drain filter" cocktail, or a drink that makes use of the byproducts of other drinks or ingredients the bar would normally throw away during prep. Making use of pulp and peels are, pun intended, the lowest hanging fruit on the "sustainability" tree, but summer cocktail menus are ripe (ugh, sorry) with tropical fruit waste, and it's often the most flavorful parts which are discarded.
Read on for the full ingredient breakdown:
Pineapple Pulp Infused Mellow Corn Bonded Corn Whiskey*
Turns out I'm a sucker for all bonded Heaven Hill products. Cheap and versatile, Mellow Corn is a bartender's favorite for a reason. Mellow Corn was always going to be the base spirit for this drink because its low cost allowed for wiggle room with the other ingredients.
As this was for a summer menu and fresh pineapple juice was an ingredient in two different drinks, the bar was producing plenty of pineapple “waste.” By simply infusing some of the juiced pulp into the Mellow Corn, I extracted some of the grassier, fibrous notes while still getting plenty of pineapple flavor. The result is a nicely balanced, versatile infusion.
I also found the name evocative of Luke Wilson's character, Anthony, and his mellow, laid-back demeanor. He's the backbone of the film, and an ounce and a half of Mellow Corn makes a strong backbone for this cocktail. His character just wants the people in his life to be happy, and few things make me happier than this combination of 100-proof corn whiskey and pineapple.
Mesquite Smoked Yellow Rose American Whiskey**
At first, I called for a half teaspoon of Laphroaig Quarter Cask for the smoke and salinity in the Bottle Rocket, but Joaquín Simó suggested I try using some leftover mesquite-smoked Yellow Rose whiskey from Steven Lewis' Walker Texas Ranger cocktail (Trashy TV menu). The distinction between the briny peat smoke and wood smoke was an important one for me to learn, and the side-by-side comparison between versions of this drink made that clear.
That isn't to say the peated Scotch didn't work. In fact, for most of you at home without a smoking gun, I would say anywhere between a quarter teaspoon and a half teaspoon of peaty Scotch would be an okay substitute. But, rather than Scotch, I would suggest a smokey mezcal instead!
For the record, Yellow Rose whiskey is produced in Texas, which is where Bottle Rocket was set and filmed. If you don't have access to Yellow Rose, you may substitute it with a young, 80 proof whiskey.
Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane
One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Future Man mocks Dignan's bright yellow Lawn Wranglers jumpsuit, commenting that he looks like a "little banana." So, obviously, I had to put a little banana in this drink.
Pouring Ribbon's always had Giffard Banane de Bresil on hand, but we had to bring in the big guns for this one. Yeah, I'm talking about Tempus Fugit's incomparable Creme de Banane. Instead of the bright, banana candy flavors of other banana liqueurs, Tempus Fugit offers a deep, rich liqueur reminiscent of caramelized bananas or bananas foster.
Salted Yerba Mate Syrup***
The Yerba Mate syrup is a reference to Inez, the motel housekeeper from Paraguay. The national drink of Paraguay is Tereré, a strong Yerba Mate drink served cold. The salt in the syrup is a little nod to Bob, who has every reason to be a bit salty by the film's end.
The grassy, earthy Yerba Mate was the perfect tropical foil to the pineapple and banana. I purposely over-steeped the tea at a higher temperature than recommended to extract the bitter notes. Thankfully, there is plenty of sugar in the cocktail to balance the syrup's tannic bitterness, which still provides a nice bite.
Salting the syrup not only tempers that bitterness, but rounds out the grapefruit & lime cordial, helps the pineapple notes pop a little more, and makes the banana liqueur an even tastier treat.
Grapefruit & Lime Cordial****
I tried getting away with using grapefruit as the primary citrus early on as I like how it plays with whiskey but eventually landed on the cordial to close a waste loop.
I don't typically love lime with whiskey, but after beating my head against a wall with differing amounts of lemon, I realized the modifiers all demanded lime.
While working on the drink at home, I found that despite the six wildly flavorful ingredients, including two infusions and two housemade syrups, it somehow still lacked something. I went to my bitters collection and tried a few before I found the answer: The Bitter Queens Sassy Sally Sarsaparilla bitters.
Unfortunately, those bitters never made it past R&D. Except for a few essential standards (Ango, Peychaud's), Pouring Ribbons makes their own bitters from a winter base or a summer base. The winter base was hit with some birch extract, and voila: rootbeer bitters!
A Collins isn't a Collins without soda water, and this one welcomes the extra water content to tame its punchy ingredients.
The drink doesn't necessarily need an aromatic, but the nutmeg plays so well with every ingredient, it was kind of impossible to go back once I tried it.
$500 Money Band
The money bands refer to both the film's second robbery of the book store and the $500 "tip" Anthony gives Inez before hitting the road.
For this garnish, I simply went to my bank and asked for a stack of $500 money bands. I laminated them and attached tiny strips of velcro on each end so they could be removed and reused. Unfortunately, I did a Very Bad Job, so they didn't make it through the duration of the menu, but they were cool while they lasted.
*Pineapple Pulp Infused Mellow Corn Bonded Corn Whiskey
50g juiced pineapple pulp
750ml bottle of Mellow Corn whiskey
Combine 50g of juiced pineapple pulp (roughly a small handful) with a 750ml bottle of Mellow Corn. Infuse for 24 hours. Strain.
**Mesquite-Smoked Yellow Rose American Whiskey
some mesquite wood chips
Using a smoking gun, smoke a 750 ml bottle of Yellow Rose Whiskey between 8 and 10 times. Yes, that many times. [Yields 12oz of syrup.]
***Salted Yerba Mate Syrup
20g yerba mate tea
Steep 20g of yerba mate tea in 150g of boiled water. Steep for 30 minutes, strain. Combine with 300g white sugar and 3g kosher salt. Blend well. [Yields 12 oz of syrup]
****Grapefruit & Lime Cordial
250g white granulated sugar
225g grapefruit juice
25g lime juice
peel of 1 grapefruit
peel of 4 limes
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 1 grapefruit and 4 limes in a sealed container for 24 hours. Add 225g grapefruit juice and 25g lime juice. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Strain peels.
[Yields 12oz of cordial.]
One of the few proprietary Pouring Ribbons recipes I am not at liberty to divulge. To keep it simple, you can add birch extract to Angostura bitters at a ratio of about 5 drops of extract per 1 ounce of bitters or grab a bottle of Bitter Queens Sassy Sally Sarsaparilla bitters. If you really enjoy making bitters from scratch, Brad Thomas Parsons has a good recipe for rootbeer bitters in his book Bitters.
Photo credit goes to Joanna Lin!