Winter is here
Wait, what’s that you say? Where is Negroni going? Don’t panic. A Negroni’s bittersweet love isn’t going anywhere. But, what is going away are the warm temperatures, for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere.
And cold weather inclines us to drink, well, more like a lumberjack. We crave beverages that are bold and deep, that warm our soul with seductive spices. You know, drinks that make you feel like you’re snuggled up in a blanket, nestled up by a fireplace somewhere in a magically snowy wonderland.
The Boulevardier embodies all of that. It’s arguably the mysterious and sexy cousin to the Negroni. The Boulevardier has all the same ingredients as its Italian relative, except it features whiskey rather than gin. Many say bourbon is best, while others have different opinions. No matter what you choose, Boulevardier season is here, keeping you warm until Spring comes.
A little bit of Boulevardier history
Prohibition birthed a lot of decadent cocktails. The Boulevardier was one of them.
It all comes back to a familiar figure in bartending history – Harry McElhone. This ex-pat mixologist founded Harry’s New York Bar in Paris as a clever way of escaping Prohibition to splendor in the art of spirits. McElhone holds credit for some of the most classic drinks we know today: Gin Sour, Sidecar, and, of course, the Boulevardier.
Funny thing is, though, McElhone didn’t speak much about the Boulevardier, despite gaining a chunk of credit for the cocktail. In his two cocktail books, McElhone went so far as to mention the Boulevardier in only one single footnote. This footnote is where we meet a new character in Boulevardier’s story: Erskine Gwynne.
An American socialite and writer living in Paris, Gwynne apparently was the true founder of the Boulevardier. A frequenter of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, he’d order the concoction of bourbon, vermouth, and Campari on the regular. Don’t believe me? Here is the precise Boulevardier reference from Barflies and Cocktails: “Now is the time for all good barflies to come to the aid of the party, since Gywnne crashed in with his Boulevardier Cocktail: 1/3 Bourbon whisky, 1/3 Campari, 1/3 Italian vermouth.”
Gwynne also created a French magazine with the same name as the cocktail he adored. If that isn’t Boulevardier love, I don’t know what is.
Flash-forward almost a hundred years later, and Boulevardier is finding its notoriety once again. Maybe not Negroni-level notoriety just yet, but it’s getting there. “If you order a Boulevardier beyond the confines of a cocktail bar or Italian-inspired bar or restaurant you risk getting a shrug or confused look as an answer to your request,” says Brad Thomas Parsons, award-winning author of Bitters, Amaro, and Last Call.
A true spirits savant, Parsons believes that Toby Cecchini, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Long Island Bar, is majorly responsible for the Boulevardier’s 21st-century revival. “Cecchini is one of the main reasons we’re talking about the Boulevardier these days. His version has been on the LIB menu since day one and he’s really work-shopped and perfected a customized spec that is just elegant, bold, and delicious.”
Makes sense that a cocktail, founded in a New York bar in Paris, found its revival back in New York, a little less than a hundred years later. Prohibition may have ended, yet we humans never change.
The Boulevardier recipe
The same party-crashing Boulevardier recipe Gwynne infamously concocted is the same recipe that most bartenders use today: 1/3 Bourbon, 1/3 Campari, and 1/3 Italian vermouth. In other words, a Negroni recipe, but scrap gin, and add whiskey.
Prohibition has long been over, though. We now have the liberty to modify our cocktails just how we like them.
And, what better way to shake off freezing temperatures than to hike up the whiskey ratio. “Most bartenders and modern recipes steer away from the Negroni’s equal-parts template for a 1-½ – ¾ – ¾ formula where the bourbon is dialed up,” explains Parsons.
The modification of the Boulevardier goes beyond bumping the whiskey. Changing up your Campari may seem sacrilegious in a Negroni, but the Boulevardier keeps the insults away from Italians, leaving more room for exploration. “Both Forthave and Faccia Brutto have bitter red aperitivi that I adore. If I could get them in Michigan, I would never use Campari,” says Jason LaValla, founder of Casamara Club, a leisure soda company inspired by Italian amari.
You can even switch up the vermouth if you’re feeling fancy. “The Boulevardier is the one instance where I want Carpano Antica Formula vermouth in the mix. It can be a bit of a bully in a Negroni or Sbagliato but really plays on the same ballfield with bourbon and Campari without elbowing the other ingredients out of the way,” Parson adds. Carpano adds the perfect dose of seductive winter aromas (think gingerbread, vanilla spice, and citrus) that make a Boulevardier oh so seasonal.
Now, does all this mean you must kick Negroni to the curb come wintertime? That all depends on who you ask. As we know, any cocktails can easily become a seasonal affair, year-round affair, or even a life-long affair.
“I think of the Negroni as a summer drink. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation somewhere on the coast of Italy, enjoying that last bit of sun before sunset,” reflects LaValla. “Some people might say that makes it a perfect winter drink, but for me, there’s nothing better than sitting outside on any old breezy summer evening, watching the sunset with a Negroni.”
There’s no doubt a Negroni can transport you straight to a balmy night on the Italian riviera. However, both the Negroni and Boulevardier are delicious enough to become year-long cocktail rendezvous.“The Negroni is a year-round affair for me. Despite its spirituous backbone of gin I drink it like I would an aperitivo drink or even with dinner,” says Parsons.
There is no doubt that the Negroni and Boulevardier can be enjoyed any time of the year. Their ingredients are bar staples. Plus, Prohibition times are long gone. We have options, people!
The fact of the matter is: temperatures are dropping. This calls for a cocktail to safeguard us from the bone-chilling cold, something with a little sugar, spice, and everything nice. And, that’s exactly what a Boulevardier is.