By Troy Patterson (c) 2013, Slate
“It’s the most aggressive marketing campaign I’ve ever seen,” said one onlooker.
“This must be the most overmarketed movie of all time,” declared another.
Were these PR professionals? Entertainment journalists? Hollywood executives? Nope. On the contrary, they were normal human beings, with actual souls and everything, including ears deafened by the news that “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” would be coming to a theater near them on Dec. 18 and eyes to roll at the promotional overkill accompanying this sequel to the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy. These people were, to be specific, a bartender and waitress coming in for the evening shift at a bar where I was clocking out of a brunch spent testing Ron Burgundy Blended Scotch Whisky, a new 80-proof liquor shilled in honor of Ferrell’s fictional 1970s newsreader.
Promotional materials tell us that this hooch is a 60 percent malt and 40 percent grain blend of whiskies from Speyside, the Highlands, and Islay, adding superfluously that “Ron Burgundy is currently being used to sell products for Dodge, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jockey.” The passive voice, with its implication of exploitation, is used meaningfully in that sentence, but I wonder if that construction tells the whole merchandising story. I would wager that this whiskey’s reason for being is to sell the movie. Reviewing the work of press-release-rewriting pop-culture bloggers, I got the idea there was a competition on to see who could arrange catchphrases from the original film most artfully. Tasting the actual product, I detected a faint wheaty note in its lingering finish _billboard paste.
In truth, the scotch is not bad. I mean, it’s not good, either. The pandering sweetness of its pronounced toffee notes suggests an overdose of artificial caramel. And there are stronger options at its price point (suggested retail price: $25). A drinker choosing a blended scotch based on its proximity to things that are funny should stick with Famous Grouse, featured in The Gun Seller, a comic novel by Hugh Laurie. A drinker choosing a blended scotch based on its film resumé should ask — very clearly and very politely — for Mr. Scorsese’s Cutty Sark. And if your plan is to toast the cult of celebrity, then you might enjoy the flavor profile of Dewar’s White Label.
Still, Ron Burgundy Blended Scotch Whisky is better than it needs to be, considering that its likeliest consumer application involves fraternity hazing rituals. “The nose is not great, but it’s all right,” said the waitress. “For mixing? OK, sure!”
The use of scotch in mixed drinks is a controversial matter. It is, as a general rule, strictly a desecration to go slinging a single malt around in such a fashion. Blended scotches, however, have a proper place on the cocktail list, no matter what your cranky uncle says. Indeed, the youngest cocktail to qualify as a bona fide classic is the gingery-tart Penicillin created by Sam Ross, who is kind of a big deal. Would Ron Burgundy approve of this drink? Doubtful. I sense that he has been inoculated against its subtle charms. Instead, I suggest the Rusty Nail.
Really, Paramount Pictures is daring us not to Anchormanize this cocktail, which combines scotch and Drambuie, the scotch-based, honey-sweet, herb-scented liqueur that, like Ron Burgundy, regards itself as a “legend.” The Rusty Nail is exactly thematically appropriate to the film franchise, redolent of both its period setting and the hero’s personal style. I encourage you to imagine that this drink, which is sticky-sweet in the way of a sentimental oldster, is best enjoyed while reclined in Lay-Z-Boy wearing a bowling shirt, and I point, further, to David Wondrich’s evocation of its wood-panelled personality: “thick-pile carpeting in harvest gold — Naugahyde couch in burgundy — 23-inch Zenith color console television — with remote control — a hi-fi, of course — wire rack full of LPs — Doc Severinsen — ‘Atomic Basie’ — Dean Martin — all stereophonic.”
In search of further Burgundy-appropriate cocktails, I hauled out P”layboy’s Host & Bar Book” (1971), a wonderful wide-lapelled time capsule. (How does one throw an “urban luau”? “Don’t get hung up on adorning your pad with fishnets and colored-glass globes,” author Thomas Mario counsels. Just begin by visiting your florist: “Tell him the size of your luau table and ask for enough flat ferns to cover it.”) From Playboy’s rabbit warren hopped out this oddity:
1 ounce scotch
1 ounce dry sherry
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange juice
½ teaspoon simple syrup
Shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve.
Though slightly reminiscent of a sherry cobbler that has been forgotten in the fridge, the Shoot is nonetheless totally OK. Said the bartender, “I don’t hate it, which is surprising.” Note well: Playboy advises this as a preprandial beverage: “Serve before a dinner of roast pheasant or partridge.”
And what if you’d rather enjoy this egomaniac’s liquor while avoiding Me Decade atmosphere? May I suggest some scotch-based drinks with showbiz patinas? The most obvious would be the Rob Roy, a Manhattan variation named for the stage adaptation of the Walter Scott novel. But that one tastes like literal patina. The brighter choice is to mix a Mamie Taylor, a buck named for a Broadway singer. In “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” Ted Haigh remarks on the media blitz of poems, jokes, and articles that established this little number as “a posh drink of the privileged class” at the turn of the 20th century — as a highball for which people paid top dollar simply on the basis of name recognition.
2 ounces scotch
¾ ounce lime juice
Ginger beer or ginger ale, the spicier the better
Pour the scotch and lime juice into a tall glass over ice. Top with the soft drink and give the thing a gentle stir. Splash in some green chartreuse if feeling fancy. Substitute a one-second blast of Sprite for the lime juice if preparing this drink at a cineplex soda fountain.
The Mamie Taylor is quite refreshing, and if “Anchorman 2” were a summer release, there would be no need to search any further for this scotch’s best use. But, in the mood for something appropriate to a holiday release, I turned back to the Playboy bar book and its “Scotch Holiday Sour” — scotch, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth, too much lemon juice, and an egg white. It’s a serious drink, too serious, excessively tart and unhappily dry. Its sourness worked my face into a frown.
Then the barman, my recent gimlet-tinkering accomplice, observed that the Scotch Holiday Sour bore a certain resemblance to the Blood and Sand, which is named for a bad Valentino movie. Both the drink and the film stand as evidence that not all so-called classics are all that great, but I figured that, doctoring the scripts of both recipes, we could triangulate a decently tasty tribute to the Paramount Pictures marketing department. I was going to call it the Catchphrase Cocktail, but he had a jollier notion.
2 ounces Ron Burgundy scotchy scotch scotch
1 ounce Cherry Heering
½ ounce sweet vermouth
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce orange juice
1 barspoon simple syrup
1 large egg white
Garnish: orange twist
Shake without ice to emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist, preferably using a channel knife to construct a silly frilly pigtail of a ribbon dangling from the glass like a party streamer. Serve with the wink of a leering eye and the snap of a pointing index finger.
I suggest the “Stay Classy” as the most responsible last act of any Ron Burgundy cocktail session. This suggestion is born of my experience failing to do so. I tried, as a sequel to it, to use my “Anchorman” scotch in a Rusty Nail Hot Toddy. That warmer tasted fine, but it did not test well with my stomach lining, which for a harrowing moment threatened to put this whole project in turnaround.
Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.