It’s fair to say that Quentin Tarantino exploded on the indie movie scene. Not to take anything away from the years he spent toiling and honing his craft while also (famously) working in a video rental store (remember those!), but the moment Reservoir Dogs and True Romance (the latter of which he co-wrote) hit the theaters, Hollywood was clamoring to find the next great auteur, and the industry produced an embarrassing amount of “edgy” films trying to re-capture Tarantino’s lightning in a bottle. But it takes more than referencing classing movie genres, casting former movie stars, and sprinkling your movie with blood, nudity and humor—in equal measure—to make compelling cinema. Thankfully, Tarantino continues to forge his own genre-loving path. Here’s a look at five of his all-time classic films, along with the perfect drinks to enjoy while revisiting his pulp-tastic career.
Simultaneously dark and oddly comic (see: the Madonna conversation), episodic without being confusing (see: the ample and smart use of flashbacks), and very, very violent (see…everything, but especially the ear-cutting scene and the perpetually bleeding wound endured by Mr. Orange), Tarantino’s first movie announced the triumphant introduction of a new kind of filmmaker. To imbibe, go literal and score a bottle of Reservoir Dogs Brewery’s Grim Reaper IPA—a big beer whose name reinforces the grim actions of the screen. But if you can’t find it (and you probably won’t; they’re based in Slovakia!), celebrate this film with a good scotch and sip slowly as the story evolves to its Hamlet—everyone dies!—conclusion. Or if you’re ready to challenge your liver, go with something less expensive and take a sip every time a character says the F-word. Bonus points if you match the drink’s color after your favorite character’s “code name.”
If Tarantino’s first movie was a terse exercise in streamlined storytelling, his second was a downright orgiastic exercise, full of retro-fantastic diners, Biblical speechifying, odes to fast-food hamburgers, and a literal shot of adrenalin—just for starters. The perfect drink should pair with your favorite sorta-stand-alone stories: an alcohol-infused milkshake cocktail in honor of Vince Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s wife; a rum and coke for that moment when Jules drains the big Kahuna Burger soft drink; or a few cans of Budweiser (or another American macro-brew) in honor of the earnest boxer portrayed by Bruce Willis. As for the gimp scene … may we suggest something that will induce an immediate blackout.
Jackie Brown (1997)
This stylistic foray may feel slightly self-indulgent at times, especially considering the episodic storytelling near the end doesn’t really offer any new insight. But there’s no mistaking the affection felt for the titular character and her unlikely love interest, bondsman Max Cherry. Pay homage to the film’s source material, Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, by making this Caribbean cocktail with a serious rum like Neisson Blanc, a rum sophisticated enough to excise the hung-over ghosts of Bacardi for ever.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) & Vol. 2 (2004)
After playing up the neo-noir in Pulp Fiction and embracing the best of blaxploitation in Jackie Brown, Tarantino turns his talents to the kung-fu and western genres, and both films play like a talented guitarist tearing through a set of classic power-rock covers. Toast the giddy adventure of Vol. 1—and its seemingly endless spray of blood at the end of the movie—by tossing back a few vodka-cranberries with good booze like the single-distilled Woody Creek vodka. For the sequel, embrace the classic western pacing and its southern U.S. locale with a few shots of high-quality tequila like Tres Generaciones Anejo, which Bill drinks before that last East-meets-West sword fight.
Tarantino’s most recent film feels like the culmination of all his loves—genre subversions, unlikely humor, a steady stream of memorable characters, and gallons of fake blood—funneled through one of Hollywood’s most iconic landscapes: the West. But the stunning cinematography of the country’s expansive wilderness indicates he’s not really taking the piss. Rejoice in the filmmaker’s genuine love for the wilds of the West by sipping on a bracing whiskey like High West Distillery’s Campfire, a hearty blend of scotch, bourbon and rye whiskeys.