The Boulevardier was first invented in the 1920s during Prohibition and was known as the signature drink of writer Erskine Gwynne (who later became the editor of a Parisian publication called The Boulevardier, and to whom the cocktail is credited).
The earliest recipe for the drink is found in the bar guide Barflies and Cocktails (1927) by globetrotting bartender, Harry McElhone—although the drink was just a mention in the epilogue as opposed to a formal mention in his book. McElhone tended bar in New York City at the Plaza Hotel, before making his way to other international hubs such as London and Paris—the latter being where he opened Harry’s New York Bar.
This three-part classic cocktail is the darker, more robust cousin to the Negroni; instead of the base spirit being gin, the Boulevardier is mixed with a whiskey—typically bourbon, although rye tends to distinguish itself a bit more in the mix and was likely the whiskey of choice back during its genesis. Its popularity ebbs and flows and is typically ordered in the colder months of the year due to its rich, spirit-forward profile, thanks to the addition of sweet vermouth and Campari. The traditional specs for the drink call for equal parts, but, just like the Negroni, the equal parts build does not produce a cocktail crafted with balance. The base spirit should be the backbone of this cocktail, which is why increasing its volume to make it prominent is the first step to fabricating the perfect Boulevardier.
The choice is yours: rye or bourbon. Rye tends to produce a lighter-bodied Boulevardier and the spice snaps through the Campari which is always a welcome trait. Rittenhouse rye is the classic bonded, 100 proof option, but Old Overholt Bonded also works exceptionally well. When it comes to bourbon, it’s important to ensure that the bottling you choose is at least 90 proof (100 proof is preferable) so that the sweeter character of the whiskey doesn’t get drowned out by the Campari; the sweet vermouth should also be more spice-driven, rather than fruity. Regardless of which whiskey you choose, the pour should be an ounce and a half.
The Campari will always maintain its classic character, so there is not much to consider there aside from its proportion, which is best at three-quarters of an ounce. The sweet vermouth is crucial for optimal flavor. There is a wealth of vermouth options that exist in the current marketplace, so pairing your vermouth with your whiskey can be the component that takes your Boulevardier from good, to exceptional. La Quintinye Rouge is a favored option with its delicate vanilla and caramel characteristics, balanced with a complex herbaceous character. As for other options, Cocchi Torino, and Dolin Rouge are worth considering.
For the perfect serve, you’ll want to make sure the dilution is perfect. Assuming that the ice is all of equal volume and surface area (i.e ice out of the same mold, or machine), approximately thirty stirs (rotations) will do the trick—adding the necessary amount of water content to the mix to blend properly. The mixed Boulevardier should be strained down into a double rocks glass over one large cube, and then garnished with an expressed orange peel. As always, to craft the perfect cocktails, the devil is in the details.
- 1 1/2 oz. whiskey (preferably 100 proof)
- 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
- 3/4 oz. Campari
Preparation: Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until the ideal dilution is achieved, then strain into a double rocks glass over a large cube. Garnish with an expressed orange peel.