Drink in History: Boulevardier

Smoky, strong, and bittersweet, the Boulevardier is probably the best cocktail to cozy up to on a chilly winter’s evening. This fancy drink, whose name transfers to “a wealthy, fashionable socialite,” is a subtle combination of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Campari, making it a breeze to prepare and easy to impress.

Sometimes mistakenly called a whiskey Negroni, the Boulevardier cocktail is actually believed to predate the Negroni. According to Dave Karraker, director at Campari & Cynar Marketing, it maintains the bitter sweet character of the Negroni but isn’t as embracing.

Boulevardier

“The Boulevardier has a deeper, smoother flavor than a Negroni thanks to the aged whiskey, which replaces the gin in the classic recipe,” Karraker said.

Dating back to 1927, the Boulevardier is credited to Harry McElhone, the founder and proprietor of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. As one of many barmen whose careers were cut short by Prohibition, McElhone escaped the U.S. to settle in Europe, where he combined U.S. cocktailing techniques with spirits, such as Campari, that you’d never come across in the States back then. Although the Boulevardier recipe is not mentioned in McElhone’s book “Barflies and Cocktails,” which is packed with 300 cocktail recipes, the sophisticated cocktail is mentioned briefly in a small paragraph where he cites, “Now is the time for all good barflies to come to the aid of the party, since Erskinne Gwynne crashed in with his Boulevardier Cocktail: 1/3 Campari, 1/3 Italian vermouth, 1/3 Bourbon whisky.”

The fact that the cocktail isn’t further explored in the book could be because McElhone seemed to defer to Erskine Gwynne, a wealthy young American man who went to Paris to start a literary magazine modeled off of The New Yorker, as the actual inventor of the drink. Gwynne’s magazine, for which there was a full-page ad at the back of “Barflies and Cocktails,” was called the Boulevardier. Although it’s not clear if the magazine had any kind of lasting impact in the world of literature, the fantastic drink Gwynne shared with McElhone went on to be quite successful.

Like many classics, the Boulevardier is flexible and allows you to play with the formula to suit your tastes. Although the most common theory is that the cocktail is a variation of the Negroni, Karraker said you can get good results by messing with the classic recipe to create variations.

“You can change out the whiskey to create unique tastes, using Bourbon, rye, or Canadian whiskey,” he said. He also suggested exploring the use of dry vermouth rather than the traditional sweet, red vermouth. There seems to be no wrong here, because no matter what kind of Boulevardier-type of elixir you shake up, any one is sure to please.

“With my job, I drink a lot of Negronis, but I like to mix it up with a Boulevardier pretty regularly,” Karraker said. “I like the deep toasted caramel notes a bourbon can bring to the drink.”

Though this misplaced classic fits in with any season, it’s the perfect blend for remembering the shining sun during the dark, cold days of winter. Refreshing and comforting, it will certainly have no problem warming up even the most jaded mixologist.

Writtten for Chilled Magazine.

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