Paging Dr. Dickel

I don’t know why, but as summer approaches I always get a powerful yen for bourbon—specifically, the Tennessee sour mash of one George A. Dickel. Now, technically, this isn’t bourbon per se, due to the charcoal filtration that most Tennessee whiskey receives (including the swill of the inferior Jack Daniel’s) but I appreciate the way the word flows off the tongue.

This led me to invent a cocktail: a fiery blend of bourbon and Dr. Pepper, only later to discover that said drink had already been claimed and named. But, as I rarely allow facts to impede my personal aggrandizement, I refined the concoction and renamed it Dr. Dickel. The invention goes back to the summer of 1998, during production of the film The Wind, on which I was acting as Production Designer. A low-budget independent thriller, The Wind was being filmed in and around the Connecticut hometown of writer/director Michael Mongillo with family, friends and a few hired pros. Being in the “friend” camp, I stayed at his parent’s house, which was also being used as a location. In spite of the hard work, long hours and turmoil that weirdly cling to indie filmmaking like crab lice, there was a summery vibe to the proceedings, as though we were at sleepaway camp learning how to make a movie.

Mike’s mother Lucille was taking on the daunting task of running craft services and the bulk of her supplies were downstairs in the garage. This is where I discovered a stash of Dr. Pepper one late night after a particularly arduous day of making props and dressing sets. Whether it was the inspiration of exhaustion or simple convenience, an immediately logical pairing came to my mind. I married the spicy/cherry soda with Dickel’s finest in a tumbler with ice and offered a toast to the day’s toil. Over the course of the next two weeks, a nightly tradition gradually took shape, with Lu and I—and whomever else had the time or inclination at that hour—gathering out on the covered porch of the ranch house to imbibe and listen to the warm fugue of crickets.

The cocktail provided a soothing elixir to the harsh reality of making a movie from scratch and the tradition was revived several summers later, when a handful of us found ourselves back at the Mongillos’, this time working on my feature Broken. The scale was somewhat smaller but the feeling remained, evoked as much by the bittersweet, suburban vibe as the good doctor himself. Yeah. So that’s how it is with recollections and distillations. Thank God it wasn’t Mr. Pibb.

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