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A beer and a shot may be acceptable at certain social engagements. However, when some heathen places a crying baby in your arms, you may require a drink with more élan than a beer.* That’s where a well-made cocktail comes in. As it has recently come to my attention that not everyone has a ballroom full of cocktail books and with time on my hands after retirement, this column will endeavor to walk you through spirits and cocktails to make with them.
During Prohibition, American bartenders and those of us who wanted a little more than bathtub gin** went to Europe. Paris, darlings, was a roaring, drunk time. Although it meant having to put up with Hemingway, Harry’s Bar was particularly fabulous. Harry knew how to make a drink, and nothing endears me to a person quite like them giving me an obscene number of Sazeracs. Among his many other talents, Harry was the first person to publish a recipe for the Boulevardier. Harry didn’t actually invent the drink; when he wrote about it in the 20s, he credited Erskine Gwynne, who was incredibly fun to drink with — certain writers would leave manuscripts lying around in an attempt to look authorial, and Erskine would do dramatic readings. Erskine would attempt an “American Cowboy” accent and recite passages involving metaphorical impotence, making asides about how the author would do better better with the ladies if he tried talking to one instead of shooting animals with the big boys.
Boulevardiers, darling, are wonderful. They are the marriage of two of my favorite things: Negronis and Manhattans. They combine whiskey (generally Bourbon), sweet vermouth, and Campari. It seems rather simple to make, as long as you have all of these ingredients on hand, because you toss an equal amount of each into your drink and that’s that. But of course, the simplest drinks are often the hardest to construct — any flaws are out in the open and not hiding behind another ingredient. One doesn’t really “toss” Bourbon into anything, other than your own mouth. That’s to say, taste as you go. I have found through experience that increasing the bourbon can lead to a fun time, but please be sure to go slowly so you don’t overpower the Campari and sweet vermouth.
My preferred variation of the Boulevardier is to switch the Bourbon out for rye and changing the sweet vermouth to dry, turning the Boulevardier into an Old Pal. If you can find Cocchi Americano, that’s even nicer to use in place of the sweet vermouth. It’s still a little sweet, but it’s dry and has a little kick from gentian root. The whole drink has a lot of spunk, and does wonders when you’re trying to forget a certain writer sticking you with his tab the night before — and does an even better job at racking up his bill.
The Boulevardier: Recipe
- 1 oz. Bourbon
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- Additional ingredients: orange twist, ice
Combine your ingredients in a mixing glass full of ice, preferably the good stuff, and stir in order to cool it down. Use a strainer (a julep strainer works well here) to hold back the ice and pour into a chilled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Recipe adapted from Harry McElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails (1927)
*And more potency.
**I respect the attempt, but I prefer my near-death experiences to be a little more palatable.
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