If 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.
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.