World Cocktail Day may sound like one of those bunk holidays that exists solely so brands can blow up your Twitter feed and sell you their stuff. (Beware: This Friday is Pizza Party Day.) But the day has some actual history attached to it: On May 13, 1806, the word “cocktail” was first defined in print.
Back then, The Balance and Columbian Repository-our favorite Andrew Jackson-era New York tabloid-classified a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” (For what it’s worth, the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word back to what you’d call a non-thoroughbred horse.)
At any rate, we’ll happily use the holiday as an excuse to imbibe on a dreary May Monday. And to mark the occasion, we’re highlighting an inspired-and surprisingly scientific-take on a classic cocktail: the Boulevardier.
The elegant drink has its own history. In 1927, the American bartender Harry McElhone picked it up from Erskine Gwynne, a friend in Paris who published the monthly Boulevardier magazine, and put it in his book, Bar Flies and Cocktails. Though McElhone used bourbon in the original recipe, over the years the libation has evolved to generally feature rye, sweet vermouth, and Campari in equal parts-a warmer cousin to the Negroni.
The Boulevardier is an excellent choice for World Cocktail Day (or any other day),
but if you can manage to snag a bottle of Bently Heritage’s Oak Sherry-Rested Source One Vodka, we suggest toasting to the occasion with the distillery’s “Bentlevardier”: a sweet, bitter, spirit-forward spin on Gwynne’s iconic creation.
Aging vodka in barrels may sound strange, but Europeans have been doing it for centuries, and the technique has made its way stateside in recent years. Bently, a brand-new Nevada-based distillery, wanted to rest its vodka in sherry oaks as an “ode to the silky single-malt whiskies that are aged in sherry barrels,” says Head Distiller Johnny Jeffrey. Besides, the process makes more sense when you consider Source One’s base grain: oat.
One of the chemical patterns in barrel aging, Jeffrey says, is the long-term accumulation of larger molecular-weight compounds as the barrel chemistry drives two reactions-esterification and oxidation-that take small aromatic molecules and fuse them with oils and alcohols. These heavier compounds pick up smells and flavors that are already interesting and make them even more complex, says Jeffrey. That’s barrel aging in a nutshell.
So where does the oat come in?
“Oats have a lot more oil and protein than other grains, and therefore the nature of the spirit distilled from them is quite different,” Jeffrey says. Those oat oils carry over into the vodka, and the proteins-as they’re broken down during the cook-give yeast more amino acids to consume, which creates “byproducts in slightly higher concentrations than those found in distillates from other grains,” he says.
Enough of those byproducts are left over after distillation that the spirit holds up to exposure from the oak and sherry better than a totally neutral spirit would, says Jeffrey. The result? “An oaky sweet, complex spirit that holds its own in a multitude of whisky drinks.”
And that’s how we get the Bentlevardier. When Bently’s Tasting Manager Lucas Huff got his hands on the sherry-rested vodka, he knew he wanted to use it in place of rye in the traditional Boulevardier.
The oat oils allow the vodka to hold up the robust flavors of the Contratto-a red, bitter Italian liqueur that’s similar to Campari. Plus, “the acid and bitter notes of wormwood in the vermouth blend beautifully with the fruity aromas that carry off the spirit,” Huff says.
Lastly, Huff added a bit of citrus oil to the rim of the glass with an orange twist to balance out the “bouquet of aromas.” “Some cocktails are summer drinks, and others are for winter,” Huff says. “But this should be enjoyed year round.” Especially on World Cocktail Day.
Created by Lucas Huff, Tasting Manager at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery
- 1 oz. Source One Single Estate Vodka, Rested in Sherry Oak Casks
- 1oz Contratto Aperitivo
- 1oz Carpano Antica Rosso
- Orange Twist
Combine all ingredients into a rocks glass over ice and stir. Garnish with an orange twist and serve.
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