Drink of the Week: Basil Hayden’s Power Play

Basil Hayden's Power Play.This week we finally come to the end of a cycle of posts featuring a number of good-to-fantastic cocktails, all courtesy of the gods of booze publicity and the free bottles of booze they are kind enough to occasionally send me. This week’s drink is a very tasty way to end the series and is intended as a sort of salute to the relatively new season of what I imagine has to be the most popular of all web-only television series, Beau Willimon’s bass-heavy, caustically compelling “House of Cards.”

Basil Hayden’s Power Play caught my eye not so much because of the promotion tied in with the latest adventures of the ultra-ruthless Democratic pol-on-the-rise played by the great Kevin Spacey, but because of one very unusual cocktail ingredient. You see, we’re actually a week late for the premiere of the new season and I’m only just now caught up with season one. However, the combination of one of the USA’s great bourbons and the inclusion of root beer was the grabber.

I’ve often wondered why, unlike ginger ale/ginger beer, cola, and 7-Up/Sprite, root beer and cream soda never seem to make an appearance in cocktails. And, yes, these are easily my two favorite sodas. Let’s give it a try.

Basil Hayden’s® Power Play

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 drops of vanilla extract
2 splashes of root beer
1 lemon rind slice (highly advisable garnish)

Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, vanilla extract and one splash of your favorite root beer in a double sized rocks/old fashioned glass with plenty of ice. Pour into a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, or really any receptacle large enough to hold the entire drink. Do not shake, but instead pour directly back into your double rocks glass. Add another splash of root beer and  your lemon rind garnish for a bit of additional ruthlessness. Toast the fact that you are almost certainly a much nicer and/or less broken person than Frank Underwood or almost anyone he knows. It might be fun and, sadly, educational, to watch political thrillers about conscience-challenged humans, but niceness is underrated!


First of all, I usually hesitate to actually include the names of booze brands — no matter how excellent — in the names of the cocktails we use here, even if that’s the name I’m given by its purveyors. However, there’s already another drink called the Power Play, which is very different from this one. Also, as is my usual practice, I tried this with a good Brand X bourbon and it was disappointing. Stick with the call brand this time.

Justifying it’s super-premium price tag, Basil Hayden’s is one of the very few bourbons I’ll drink semi-straight (on the rocks, say) by choice. It’s got a Scotch-like astringency to it and is less sweet than a lot of other bourbons. That’s important because, between the simple syrup and the root beer, this is a pretty sweet concotion and sweeter bourbons are a real problem here.

I also typically like to give readers an option to switch out simple syrup with suger as a way to may life easier. That substitution didn’t work either. You can always simply combine a heaping tablespoon of easily dissolved superfine sugar with an equal amount of water and mix them together for simple syrup on the fly.

Finally, I wish I could report you to you how this drink worked with various brands of root beer. I love root beer at least as much as I love my favorite cocktails and there are a number of brands I like more than the others. Still, the stuff is, to me, far more addictively irresistible than booze, and I feared the impact on my blood sugar if I bought more than one brand. I fortunately found a half-size six pack of my beloved ultimate default root beer, A&W, and stuck with that. It was mighty good as long as I didn’t overdo the splashes.

And one last thing. I know, I know, this post has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day this Tuesday. I’m sorry…I failed to give the calendar a look before it was too late. Frank would try to capitalize on my weakness, but I hope you’ll be more forgiving and not try to blow my house down.


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Drink of the Week: The Boulevardier

The BoulevardierIf you’re reading “The Sun Also Rises” right now, this may be the drink you want to put you in the apposite booze addled/jaundiced frame of mind. In fact, it was actually invented at the famed Hemingway hang, Harry’s Bar. If you’re going to overdo it the way the characters in the book do, you could do a lot worse.

Moreover, if today’s beverage  reminds you a little bit of the Negroni, then count yourself among the cocktail elect as this drink basically is that cocktail classic, but substituting whiskey — usually bourbon but some recipes say you can do it with rye and possibly even Canadian — which makes it also a bit like a Manhattan.

Still, while some writers have wondered out loud why this semi-forgotten prohibition era beverage is less well known than those undisputed classic beverages, I can see why it hasn’t become a household name. While I find the Negroni and the Manhattan difficult to mess up and nearly always amazing, the Boulevardier is more elusive. On the other hand, if you manage to get it really right, it can be pretty darn nifty — especially if you like whiskey and the powerful bitter-sweetness/sweet bitterness of Campari as I much as I do.

The Boulevardier

1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Stir if you must be a classicist, but I say you should shake this drink, damnit. Whichever you choose, strain into our old friend, the chilled cocktail glass or — especially if it’s as hot where you are as it is right now at DOTW Central — into an ice-filled rocks glass. Imbibe this beverage sure in the knowledge that you don’t really have to watch the rather turgid 1957 film version of Hemingway’s aforementioned novel with Tyrone Power and an all middle-aged-ish cast, which is dead wrong considering that “The Sun Also Rises” is kind of a higher quality early draft of “Less Than Zero” with booze, booze, and more booze substituting for booze, coke, Quaaludes, and more booze and a higher species of jerkwads for characters. Where was I? Oh, yeah, cocktail blog.


The earliest version of this drink actually calls for equal parts bourbon, Campari, and vermouth. While I’ve found it works just dandy for a Negroni, that wasn’t the case here. Even using my go-to 100 proof Old Fitzgerald’s bourbon, I found the sweetness a bit overpowering despite the bitter Campari comeback, especially when I tried this one stirred. Things were much improved when I went with a more contemporary version which upped the proportion of bourbon.

I was concerned that the merely 80 proof Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey featured here just last week would prove too delicate to stand up to the Campari and vermouth. However, I once again badly underestimated this subtle yet powerfully flavorful Jim Beam high end brew. The resulting Boulevardier was subtly complex, with just the right level of sweetness to bitterness and with a few of the more savory-ish notes of the Basil Hayden mellowing things out.

I’m going to try this one with rye pretty soon, but that brings us awfully close to another drink, the Whiskey Rebellion inspired 1794, which I’m saving for another occasion.


Drink of the Week: The Brown University

Regular readers may have sensed that I like to keep things very simple. Life can be awfully complicated and stressful sometimes, and I myself tend to see the world as not a black and white matter but one of endless shades of gray. Still, where ever we can keep things simple, I think, we probably kind of should. Why make life harder than it has to be?

Cocktails don’t get that much simpler than the Brown University. It also seemed a good fit for yet another really great bottle of whiskey to mysteriously turn up here at Drink of the Week manor.

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which is another worthwhile spirit under the Jim Beam Small Batch umbrella, has a taste that’s gentler than most bourbons, which makes sense as it’s mere 80 proof, not the 88-100 (or more) proof we bourbonistas are used to. It’s sweet in the way of a good bourbon, and it’s certainly not harsh, yet it’s far from boring and has plenty of the right kind of complexity. I’ve been joking for a while that I was getting to the point where merely 80 proof liquor was starting to bore me. Basil Hayden’s reminds me that I really am joking when I say that.

Anyhow, time to try the stuff in a unfairly obscure cocktail classic, Brown University.

Brown University

1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Stir for a good long time or, if you’re using a less sublime bourbon than the brand I found myself using, consider shaking…perhaps.  With this drink the anti-shaking traditionalists may be right on the money. Definitely strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

If you like, you may toast Rhode Island’s Ivy League school and, maybe, you can find out for me what the connection is between the drink and the college, because I haven’t a freaking clue.


The Brown University may be simple with it’s equal parts of bourbon and white vermouth, but it’s as sophisticated as cocktails get. It seems to contain a spice rack full of flavors. In fact, an even simpler version of this drink that’s made without bitters is called a Rosemary, and that seems appropriate. Of course, some of that savory spice might have been the influence of Basil Hayden’s and I didn’t have a chance to try this one with another brand, though I surely will. Whatever brand you end up with, you definitely want to stick with one of the mellower bourbons for this one, I think.

And now we close with a musical interlude provided by some the talented young ladies of Brown University.  I hope they all get to try the beverage that bears their alma mater’s name sometime.


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