Monday, September 30, 2013

Drank Bar Journal No. 18: Film Noir Portion Control

I watch a fair bit of film noir and there's loads to be learned about how Americans—at least those in movies—drank in the late 1940s. One thing they had a clear handle on was portion control.

Film noir drinks are small. In Out of The Past with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas, the drinks are in tiny bulb glasses, they can't be much more than an ounce and a half, barely enough for a shot and a dash of bitters. Whiskey is perpetually served neat, often in glasses half the size of our regular rocks glasses. Even water comes small—in I Woke Up Screaming the actors chase pills with water from something no bigger than a shot glass.

Small drinks, especially cocktails, make a lot of sense. We expend a lot of energy—literally—to chill drinks to reduce the alcohol's burn in order to let other flavors come forward. We shake the drink in ice (that we throw away), we make fancy giant cubes, we chill glassware. But if we pour the drink in a large glass nothing we've done is going to keep it cool for long—it's likely to be unpalatably warmer by the time the last drip is sipped. A smaller cocktail helps solve that problem.

There are a few places that are doing smaller drinks that I've noticed. Trick Dog in San Francisco has excellent small aperitifs. The Bar at 327 Braun Court always keeps small format beer, 6 oz bottles that are just perfect—the same principle applies.

Seeing drinkware in film noir also helped me understand Hemingway and Fitzgerald more. In their books, most of which take place a decade or two before the noir era, it seems like people never stop drinking. They're always stopping here for a drink, there for a drink, another place for a few drinks and it goes on and on. I know the stories were often about borderline alcoholics, I just didn't see how it was humanly possible to do what they did. Everyone should have been unconscious or dead halfway through the story. But the drinks were an ounce—now I get it. 

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