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The Boulevardier is a regular around these parts.
It’s a drink that straddles the line between Negroni and Manhattan. Depending on how you frame it, it’s either a Negroni with whiskey swapped in for the gin or a Manhattan with half of the sweet vermouth swapped out for bitter Campari.
It’s welcome cocktail, especially in spring and fall, when I’m not looking for the dry refreshing qualities of gin or the rich warming qualities of a Manhattan, but rather something in between.
The Boulevardier emerged during a funny period in American cocktail history. When we think of old classics, we tend think of pre-Prohibition drinks, but this one actually originated during Prohibition at Harry’s New York Bar, a popular hangout for Americans in Paris.
Among those Americans was a regular named Erskine Gwynne (where have all the Erskines gone?). He was a relative of the Vanderbilts and apparently had the money to allow him to gadabout Paris and frequent bars and start a literary magazine called The Boulevardier.
The original recipe appears as equal parts Campari, Italian vermouth, and bourbon whiskey. (In cocktail books of the time, sweet vermouth was generally referred to as Italian vermouth.) But modern bartenders have tended to increase the whiskey and decrease the other parts.
I tend to reach for rye in my Boulevardiers because I think there is ample sweetness from the Campari and the vermouth, but honestly I will gladly drink one made with bourbon or even Canadian whiskey (for a while Canadian Club was the go-to whiskey for the drink).
Most versions of the drink I see use Carpano Antica for the sweet vermouth. And it’s an excellent rich, full-flavored sweet vermouth, and if you have only one sweet vermouth in your refrigerator, that should be it.
But, personally, my favorite Boulevardiers are made with Punt e Mes, a sweet vermouth with some bitter complexity thrown into the mix.
I like the way it plays off the Campari, which is bracingly bitter and wonderful but arguably a bit one-note. Punt e Mes subtly deepens and layers the bitterness. If you have a bottle kicking around, it’s worth trying in this to see what you prefer.
This drink, like everything in the Negroni family, is infinitely adaptable.
One of my favorite riffs is the Popinjay which swaps in cognac for the whiskey and Cynar for the Campari. But there a wonderful variations with nearly every base spirit out there.
Use this a starting point and tweak to make it yours.
- 1 1/2 oz rye or bourbon
- 3/4 oz Campari
- 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
- Put a glass in the freezer to chill. Add the rye or bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into your glass and serve.
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