The Boulevardier – the most adaptable of autumn cocktails

“Not that I’m obsessive, but the Boulvardier is an extremely good – if nuclear – aperitif”

Victoria Moore, in The Telegraph

The clocks are going back this weekend, so we’re moving on from the summery Negroni, and sampling a Boulevardier in this post. How was I introduced to this warming winter cocktail?

One of my favourite bars is the bar in the Hotel de Rome in Berlin. I’m not talking about the crowded rooftop terrace; I’m talking about the ground floor La Banca bar. Here you can while a way a pleasant, and quiet evening, in opulent surroundings, and with the attentive ministrations of the barman.

Be both had a bit of time, so for my second drink I thought I’d ask his advice. “Can you recommend a cocktail for someone who likes whisky?” I asked him.

And, hardly blinking even, he replied, “you’ll be wanting to try a Boulevardier then… “

And I can report that it was, indeed, exceedingly good. It’s also a favourite of food writer, Felicity Cloake.

What exactly is it?

A Boulevardier is not a Manhattan – because instead of Angostura (and other bitters) Campari is substituted.

Nor is a Boulevardier a Negroni. As Paul Clark, writing on Serious Eats, comments:

“This isn’t a Negroni. It is, however, the Negroni’s long-lost autumnal cousin”.

And he then goes on to describe the Negroni with its gin as being ‘crisp and lean’; and the Boulevardier, with its gin substitute, Bourbon, as being ‘rich and intriguing…absolutely stunning’.

The history of the Boulevardier; and about its name

The word ‘Boulevardier’ literally means a promenader of boulevards…not someone who just walks about on roads, but one who likes to do so to be seen, to be known, on smart avenues positively bristling with the elegant celebrities and ravishing socialites of the day.… this is a man about town as it were.

And as such the term was adopted by a young American, Erskine Gwynne, who moved to Paris in the 1920s, and founded a magazine aimed at satisfying the boulevardier market. To make it easy for his target customers to, well, be targeted, he called his new publication The Boulevardier.

Harry McElhone (founder of Harry’s New York Bar) wrote a memoir, Barflies and Cocktails, in which he credits Gwynne with the creation of the Boulevardier cocktail.

How to make it – variations on a theme

The original Boulevardier was composed of one part Bourbon, one part Sweet Vermouth, and one part Campari, shaken with ice, strained and then served with a twist of orange.

Whatever you do, the tug of war between the sweet vermouth and the bitter Campari, remains key.

But you can have fun experimenting:

The bourbon

The Bourbon makes this drink a bit sweet to my taste, so you can use rye instead which is a bit edgier… a bit more spicy (see Bourbon v Rye for more on the difference between these two spirits); or, fascinating, you could substitute the Bourbon for Scotch.

This is a drink which could do with a bit more backbone too. So you could try racking up the strength – the proportion – of whiskey to the other ingredients.

Indeed, if you double the proportion of spirit, and use rye instead of Bourbon, you get a cocktail whose invention is attributed to Dominic Venegas, a Master of Scotch working for Pernod Ricard in the States. This combination is called a 1794 Cocktail – it commemorates the whiskey rebellion – where the whiskey in question was rye.

The vermouth

You can also experiment by substituting the vermouth, but if you use dry vermouth you will create an Old Pal cocktail.

The Campari

You could substitute Aperol of course – but this will make it sweeter, and, quite honestly, a bit bleh… Aperol isn’t quite as bright as Campari. Or you try the artichoke-based Cynar. A fabulous thing to add might be some Dr Adam Elmegirab Aphrodite bitters…. this contains cacao nibs, black peppercorns, coffee, alspice… chilli…

The garnish

Originally it was often served with a cherry (too sweet… too twee…). A twist of orange goes well, but so does a twist of lemon.

The ice

The Boulevardier is usually shaken with ice, and then strained; but sometimes it can be served, as mine was in Berlin, on the rocks.

The sky’s the limit!

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