A "Bols-vardier," you ask?
Really, you should order one. It's quite good. The recipe riffs on a classic Negroni while the name plays on that of the Negroni-derived cocktail the Boulvardier. But don't call it a "Bols-vardier" because, at this juncture, your bartender will either think one of two things, that you talk funny or that you don't know how to pronounce "Boulevardier."
Our hope is for a third option: that your bartender admires your sharp wit and discerning palate. Which they will, but first you'll need some context.
The Negroni seems like a simple cocktail: three ingredients (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth), often all equal. And I do say "often" because there are those who prefer the slight dominance of gin. Joshua James of The Clever Koi in Central Phoenix, for example, employs 1.5 ounces of gin to .75 ounces each of vermouth and Campari. And the Boulvardier, which swaps gin for either bourbon or rye, is for the whiskey drinker at their most stubborn, a workboot to the shin to the drink's wonderful origins.
In the early 20th century Orson Welles might have been the first to speak the Negroni's name to the masses. He who wrote short stories of shooting stampeding elephants in Burma, of hangings in jails, and of being profoundly poor in Paris, wrote an even shorter story home to Ohio from Rome of the exotic Negroni: "The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other." The vermouth, it appears, was unremarkable -- but the drink was a marvel at that time for its supreme balance, to which it owes it classic status in modern day drinking.
That being said, there's a certain temptation for bartenders to mess with the status quo when it comes to the classic cocktails. And with Negroni Week festivities commencing on June 1, the Negroni is an apt example of a classic cocktail that's often "modernized." Maybe one of the best examples. It's had its engine ripped out, modified and reassembled with each passing bar shift. As the world spins, the Negroni gets turned upside down -- though, one can hope, never shaken.
I remember the first Negroni I ever had that wasn't a Negroni. It was on a road trip through Oakland, and we'd stopped though a restaurant hellbent on and obsessive in it's open flame cooking. The effects of places like Chez Panisse hang heavy over kitchens like this -- vegetables first, organic is better. And so it was no surprise that when a classic Negroni was ordered, an organic Negroni was delivered. Pale, white, earthy -- substitutions without artificial coloring and additives had been made. (Their stemless glassware, for the record, is worth a peek.)
These are wild times for the Negroni, indeed.
Substituting Bols Genever for normal gin is how I'd like to think the Dutch do a Negroni -- a malty, complex gin bends genres better than Tarantino, and doesn't commit either towards the classic nor the bastardized too heavily. The spirit's home is built dead even between gin and whiskey profiles, without the stigmas of either -- like the rare meal that both offers comfort and adventure.
Best part? If your bar has any Bols at all, you don't have to wait until June's Negroni Week to try it. Just ask for a "Negroni with Bols Genever" when you do.
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