Cocktails and Tall Tales: Cowboy Bebop and The Manhattan
I want you to think of your most favorite food in the world. Take a good, vivid look at it in your mind’s eye. Touch it. Smell it. Remember that first time you took a bite into it and how happy you were in that moment. The flavors washed over and around your tongue and you knew, at the time, it was the most delicious thing you had ever tasted. You wanted the dish to last forever.
Do you have a favorite drink as well? Can you remember that initial sip? What about that almost insatiable thirst that beckoned the whole vessel into the endless void of your gullet? I tend to get that feeling whenever I drink anything remotely delicious. Horchata and Jamaica are the two beverages that give me that *CONSUME* sensation no matter how full I am when they slip across my palate. I’m not ashamed! I know deliciousness when I taste it and just can’t get enough, so someone out there has to share this excitement with me.
If you can't tell, I enjoy food and beverage. I’ve been a bartender for about 7 years now at a restaurant/winery/concert venue combo monster and it’s opened my eyes to the wide range of experiences that could be made magical with the right pairing. The idea of pairing wine and food is as old as the beverage itself. Where I come from, you can’t consume alcohol until you’re 21. But in parts of the ‘Old World’ (Pronounced: Europe) where wine is entrenched in the culture as the food it is served with, it’s not uncommon for children to enjoy a glass at dinner with their parents. It’s part of the ceremony, of coming together at the table and sharing a moment in the culture and with each other. That’s the vibe our establishment went for, meeting together and sharing an intimate moment with each other.
Then, they took it up a notch and started pairing wine with everything you could think of. Wait, we do concerts? Pair wine with music. Oh snap, people like movies? There HAS to be a wine to go with each one! Dinosaurs? Fossils? Yup, there’s a wine for each one. LIPSTICK!? Pair it.
I’ll admit, sometimes they go a little bit overboard, but it drove home a point I’ll never forget: You can pair anything with anything if you get a little bit creative.
So although I am fairly knowledgeable about wine, as a bartender my personal calling is toward cocktails. And as an anime fan, that’s a cross-section of food and media I haven’t seen much of before. So I’d like to bring to you more of this good stuff with:
Cocktails and Tall Tales: Your Guide to Pairing Food and Beverage with Media
Today we’ll take it easy with a dive into two classics that can speak to a wide range of individuals. Let’s talk the space western classic: Cowboy Bebop,
and the downtown gentleman's cocktail of choice: The Manhattan
If you’re not familiar, Cowboy Bebop is a space Western themed Anime released in 1997 created by Hajime Yatate and composed by Yoko Kanno. Its set in the year 2071, a time where earth has been ravaged by the aftermath of a space exploration gone wrong. Humans have escaped into space, the final frontier, and like any western, the bad guys are up to no good. You follow the crew of the bounty hunting ship, The Bebop, piloted by Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein. Their adventures take them from the surface of Earth to the the far reaches of our solar system as they take down baddies and come to terms with their lives out in the deep void.
I bring up its composer because the music in this show is just as important as each other component. Over 26 episodes you see the crew of the Bebop take on adventures from cops ‘n’ robbers shootouts to eco terrorist hostage situations to long lost romances returning for closure. The music paired with the animation does an amazing job of transporting you into each one of the episodes and making you feel like a member of The Bebop as well. Their personal drama, the stories of normal people surviving in this outlaw fantasy world, all wove a wide reaching quilt that immersed you in the universe, but never touched on the surreal. The characters were believable and the world they lived wasn’t quite as, and the music tied them together to lock the viewer in for a great ride.
The Manhattan is a classic cocktail known the world over and is one of the most basic you’ll want to know if you ever want to be a rockstar bartender. Whiskey based, it’s a 2:1 ratio of whiskey and red vermouth and a dash of Angostura Bitters, stirred with ice and served in a chilled martini glass. Add a Luxardo cherry for garnish and you’ll have yourself a drink to enjoy that might even wow yourself.
Breaking it down, whiskey itself is a distilled spirit coming from any type of grain. Corn, wheat, barley, rye can all be used to create whiskey and are just as important to its flavor as the most iconic part of the process, the barrel aging. You’ve seen vodka, it’s a clear spirit, and all distilled spirits come out crystal clear. It’s the charred oak barrel that adds the extra flavor to the grain spirit. The charring of the oak caramelizes compounds and sugars in the oak itself and over the course of years lying in wait, the whiskey gains that distinct, deep amber color.
Vermouth is an interesting beverage since it’s essentially a wine product beefed up with neutral spirit and a selection of herbs unique to each producer. In the Manhattan, you’re using red, sweet vermouth (There’s lots of variation in the vermouth world) to balance the oaky, hot presence of the whiskey. For each whiskey, there will be a vermouth to pair that works better for your own palate, but I’ll leave you to do your own tinkering. Angostura Bitters are the bitters of choice here, as their tried and true flavor has survived in every iteration of the classic. Bitters are highly concentrated botanicals made with select aromatic herbs, barks, and roots. Originally created as a medicinal product, they’ve found many homes in cooking and especially cocktailing to balance out profiles of otherwise imbalanced beverages.
Now, why do Cowboy Bebop and The Manhattan go together?
Cowboy Bebop’s space ranger/film noir vibe lends itself well to a drink that drinks best slowly. Film noir tropes place our sometimes morally ambiguous characters against the dark shadows of their past, and a sweet drink would drown out the emotion with sugar. The few saloons that Spike finds himself in across the cosmos also stock whiskey and my mans sits and shares one with an old time friend close to the end of the series. The jazz composed by Yoko Kanno transports you right back into the speakeasies of the Prohibition Era in the US, where secret clubs dedicated to those outlaw bootleggers and other “unsavory” cats spun their wheels throughout the night, listening to the sound of the time played live for their pleasure. Also the time period where the film noir genre began and grew from. One sip of a Manhattan and I’m transported to the back of a smoke filled room with a grand piano playing, accompanied by the sultry tones of the saxophone. If you don’t believe me, just make yourself a Manhattan and push play on episode 1. Once that bassline in the opening hits, you might just change your mind.
Try out my spin on this classic cocktail and see if that doesn't give you The Real Folk Blues:
The Bebop Manhattan
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- .75 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- 2 oz. High West Double Rye Whiskey
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir.
Strain into a coupe, martini, or serve with no ice in a rocks glass
Garnish with a brandied cherry
Do you have a drink you think pairs with Cowboy Bebop? Wanna talk about other anime pairings? Drop a comment below and let’s discuss!