There are times in life when you do everything right, but still come up short. It happens. Even when you make every possible effort and don’t miss a trick, the world just doesn’t line up for you. It’s all about the effort. That’s why we teach kids to always do their best, fully aware that sometimes your best simply isn’t good enough to overcome the obstacles life has placed in your way. That’s the way the world works and that is ok. I am reminded of that tonight and a fellow who was among the best at what he did. A man so good at his job that he ended up typecast, trapped in a role he could not escape even as the world changed and left him behind. So, in honor of doing one thing and doing it well, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Bela Lugosi.
You know him best as the most elegant of the original Universal Pictures monsters, Count Dracula. His thick Hungarian accent and courtly manners made him perfect for the role that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He would go on to play roles alongside fellow Universal’s original Frankenstein Monster, Boris Karloff. They would pair up for Son of Frankenstein, The Black Cat and The Raven with the more accomplished Karloff demanding top billing, in spite of the fact that Lugosi often had larger parts. Lugosi would go on to star in many films over his long career, but he always felt he was hampered by his accent and early successes in horror films and he eventually moved on to lower quality B-movies where his name and former star power could be traded on for a steady paycheck. He would never be able to leave the shadow of the vampire behind, though. His last appearance as an A-list actor in a major motion picture was to reprise his original role as Count Dracula in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Although, I was first introduced to this one by Leandro Monrovina from The Educated Barfly, this drink was actually created by Patrick Graham from Hollywood Florida’s Sidecar Speakeasy. I haven’t been there yet, but I spent a good deal of my misspent youth on the streets around it, so I look forward to revisiting someday. I looked around and could not find any info on why it is named for one of the most famous horror actors of the 30’s. The ingredients don’t seem to lend themselves to Count Dracula or any of his other classic characters. I guess we can take it as a win from the grave that he got the top billing over Boris Karloff that he so often missed out on in life.
This one has one of those cool, complicated garnishes. I suggest you make it first, so you will have everything ready to assemble at the end. Grab a fresh lemon and cut it in half, take one of those halves and set it on your jigger, flat side up. Pour sugar across the surface of the lemon until it is mostly covered and thick enough that you can’t see through it. Grab your angostura bitters and add a couple of stabs till the sugar is soaked through. Pretty cool, huh? Maybe a bit too cool, so grab your torch and set it afire. Well, not really on fire, we are trying to caramelize those lemony, bitter sugar crystals to make a solid disc, just like the top of a creme brûlée. Once you have melted all those sugars together, you will need to give it a couple of minutes to cool and solidify. How better to use that time than by actually making the cocktail?
Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of Fernet-Branca, 1 ounce of Mezcal, I chose Del Maguey Vida; 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 an ounce of agave syrup and 1 ounce of pineapple juice. Add ice and shake to the beat of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus, cause you need more dub-inspired, post punk, Gothic rock in your life. Honestly, it’s nine and a half minutes long and they don’t begin singing till about three minutes in, so maybe you should start the track as soon as you begin gathering ingredients and you are still going to be reclining in your velvet-lined coffin, sipping your drink before they really get going. When your tins are good and cold, double strain into a chilled coupe and grab that ango-lemon brûléed sugar disc with your tongs, carefully placing it on the edge of the glass, letting it hang over the edge a bit. How cool is that?
This is lovely. Seriously, lovely. The smoke from the mezcal, playing with that sweet pineapple, while the herbal goodness of the fernet provides this a really solid base flavor. Hints of citrus brightness making a top note that calls out of the dark complexity of this wonderfully savory drink. Maybe I do see the Lugosi Connection, after all. Don’t skip on that ango-lemon brûlée disc of caramel goodness either. The aroma alone is worth the effort and it really helps this drink stick the landing. Excellent, all the way around.
It’s a great drink in honor of a great actor who did his job so well that no one ever really wanted him to do anything else. Even his final role in Ed Wood’s, wonderfully terrible, so bad it might be sorta ok when viewed from a distance, Plan 9 From Outer Space, saw him donning Dracula’s cape one last time as they used archival and test footage to have him posthumously “star” in this cult classic. A classic that slumbered in relative obscurity until it was awarded the honor of being the “worst film ever made” in 1980. It is ironic that the only things this film has going for it is it’s PhD in Horribleness and Bela Lugosi getting top billing one last time.
They did their best and it turned out to be the worst ever. I am not sure how that fits the moral of the story, but I still believe that you have to give your all and do the best you can, no matter the odds. It may be even more important to do your best when you have little chance of winning. Could you imagine making the worst film ever without really trying? How embarrassing would that be? So, go out and do your best. That’s usually going to be good enough and if it isn’t, well, at least you will know that you really tried and that is the most important thing of all. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane my friends.