I used to do a bit of acting. To be fair, I usually feel like I am still acting everyday, but no one gives me a script or pays me for that. Every once in a while I get the opportunity to get out there and trod the boards again and when I do, I relish it. It is a true privilege to be able to go out there and entertain folks, to help them forget the real world, if just for a little while. There is nothing in the world like being on stage in front of a live audience and feeling that circle of energy flowing. It is an addiction that can be hard to feed, so when I get the chance, I work hard and I savor every moment. I was fortunate enough to be cast in a “one night only” production last weekend at a festival and during the afterglow of the show, discussion turned to sweet Italian liqueur and the pure joy that sometimes happens when things go off the rails. So, with a nod to making it up as you go along, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Harvey Wallbanger.
I have never been a fan of this drink. At its core this is just a screwdriver with Galliano floated on top, which is why I haven’t made it till now. I’ve never really gotten into the Screwdriver. They always make me feel like someone just ruined my orange juice by watering it down with vodka. If I need to get drunk and that is all I have, I’ll just drink the vodka straight and enjoy the OJ on its own. You do you, but that’s my policy. The established lore says this drink was created by Donato “Duke” Antone at the Blackwater in LA in the 1950’s though it doesn’t really come into prominence until early 70’s, just like me. Unlike me, its origin story has several holes, including the fact that no one can find any evidence of the existence of Blackwater in Los Angeles and the fact that Duke Antone was living in Connecticut at the time. So, it was also probably not actually named after a surfer who drank so many one night that he was bouncing off the walls, despite the many claims to the contrary.
The original construction is to build this one in the glass and it is super simple. Add ice to a tall glass and stir 2 ounces of vodka with four ounces of orange juice. Pour 1/2 an ounce of Galliano over the back of a bar spoon to float it on top, garnish with an orange wedge and serve. So easy, a monkey can do it, so I did. Having made the drink, the natural thing to do was to taste it. I just don’t get this one. I’m not sure why we are floating Galliano, since it is yellow you don’t get a visual bump and having it on top makes the drink inconsistent. It’s like a bad screwdriver with occasional vanilla tones or a heavy herbal baby aspirin, depending on your sip. It is just all over the place. So, I did what anyone would do when things go sideways, I tossed the script and decided to improv my way out of this jam.
So forget all that stuff we practiced and get ready to work, because it is time for the Harvey Wallbanger 2.0. Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of vodka, I chose a nostalgic Stolichnaya; 3 ounces of orange juice, this should be fresh squeezed, but I had the bottled stuff; 1/4 ounce of Galliano and 1/2 an ounce of orange cordial, that I had left over from making a Fernet Ramos. Add some of that good artisanal ice and give it a shake to the beat of Tom Wait’s “New Coat of Paint“, which I may or may not have sung during the show. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with an orange peel.
That’s more like it. Incorporating the Galliano gives every sip consistent interest. That vanilla thing pops right through with a nice bitter note on the finish from the anise. The cordial really helps things as well, giving a deep orange flavor and a sweet boost to the drink. It’s made by letting the peels from three oranges sit in 1 1/4 cup of sugar over night and then combining that sugar syrup with 2 cups of fresh squeezed orange juice and 1/2 a cup of lemon juice. It’s sweet and super flavorful and it really comes through to help bump up the orange in this. You almost get an herbal creamsicle thing going on here and that is a good thing. This drink has depth, complexity and damn, is it pretty.
In some ways this one turned out like most theatre. It’s not quite what we had planned on, but all of the elements are there, sort of reshuffled, with that dash of magic that can only happen in front of a crowd. We had some little hiccups during our show, which is to be expected with limited rehearsal time, but the crowd, mostly, did not know. Life on stage is a lot like life off the stage. Sometimes, it’s gonna go off the rails and you aren’t always going to know what to do and that is fine. When things don’t go to plan, just get out there and make something up. They say that the key to improvisation is to always say “yes”; well, actually, “yes, and” to keep things moving. Negativity stalls. When you are saying no, there is nowhere left to go. So look around and see who is with you and help them out; take care of the folks you are working with, keep the crowd laughing and, above all, keep talking; it’s all about communication. As long as there is no dead air we are still moving and we will get back on track.
That’s the thing, sometimes you have to go off script, just don’t make a habit of it. There is nothing wrong with the original Harvey Wallbanger, it is similar to a lot of drinks from that time period. They are good, simple drinks and our modern palates definitely notice that simplicity, not always in a good way. This one isn’t going the way it needed to, so, I improvised, with no disrespect to Duke Antone, or whoever actually scripted this drink out the first time. I took his plan, as an inspiration, a launching place to do something a little bit different. I love that freedom. I like people working together to make things better, even when none of us are quite sure how we are going to get there. That’s part of the thrill of performing live, without a net. Always aware that any slip could plunge us to the ground, but confident in each other to pull through and make it look like we are flying with the greatest of ease. Every moment when you are outside the lines, that specter of failure hangs there, daring you to stay aloft. It is like having that proverbial tiger by the tail, it is risky, a thing you only do when you have to. It’s dangerous and absolutely intoxicating, but, when it works, there is nothing in the world like it. Speaking of a different kind of foolishness, Tom Robbins once said “When we succeed, we raise the exhilaration content of the universe. We even raise it a little bit when we fail.” So, you see, just by getting out there, we are winners, either way. I like that, too. Here’s to making things a little better, even if just for a moment in your own small corner of the world. There’s nobility in that. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.