In the world of whiskey cocktails, classics like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned often steal the spotlight. But nestled in the pages of mixology history is a gem that’s equally deserving of your attention: the Boulevardier cocktail.
If you’re a fan of bittersweet flavors, this one’s going to be right up your alley. And after going through all this info and checking out Chris’ video, you’ll be ready to mix up your very own Boulevardier at home!
History of the Boulevardier
Picture it: Paris, the roaring 1920s. The cocktail scene was buzzing with creativity. But as with most classic cocktail history, the origins of this drink are a little convoluted.
Because it first appeared in Harry MacElhone’s recipe book Barflies in the late 1920s, some say that MacElhone– the legendary bartender & owner of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris– actually created the Boulevardier himself.
However, many say that the creator was Erskine Gwynne, an American writer in Paris who founded a monthly magazine called The Boulevardier. This is one of the more accepted stories of the creation of the Boulevardier drink.
And still others say that MacElhone actually created this simple cocktail for Gwynne in celebration of the latter’s literary magazine.
Will we ever truly know who created this classic recipe? Probably not. So let’s go ahead and move on to making the drink, shall we?
Traditionally– if you follow the gin-based Negroni formula– the classic Boulevardier cocktail is an equal-parts drink, meaning all the components of this 3-ingredient drink are the same amounts:
- Bourbon or rye whiskey: This is personal preference, but I am a big fan of bourbon’s sweetness to play off the bitter notes of the Campari. Bourbon is more common, but of course feel free to switch out the bourbon for rye if you know rye is your thing. And if you’re a true whiskey lover without much loyalty to one style over the other, I recommend trying both and seeing which you like better.
- Campari: If you’re not familiar, Campari is a liqueur similar to Aperol but with an even more bitter taste. This Italian aperitif mixes bitter orange with herbs and woody elements.
- Sweet vermouth: This fortified wine adds a sweeter flavor profile and herbal notes that provide a more balanced taste against the Campari. (Just don’t confuse it for dry vermouth!)
- Bonus: Orange twist or cocktail cherry for garnish
These three simple ingredients come together to create a complex cocktail that’s both bold and balanced.
Variations of this Classic Whiskey Cocktail
Others experiment with different Amari, creating delightful variations of this beloved drink. Don’t be afraid to get creative and make it your own – that’s the beauty of cocktail crafting!
Here are some of our favorite alternate versions:
- Up the alcohol: One of the most common recipe twists on the classic version is to use 1.5 or even 2 ounces bourbon whiskey (or rye) rather than 1 ounce, while keeping the Campari and sweet vermouth the same. Upping the base spirit helps bring down the bright bitterness from the Campari– but it also raises the overall alcohol content.
- Bitters: Add a dash of orange bitters to give a nice balance with those citrusy flavors.
- Change the amaro: “Amaro” just means bitter in Italian, but Campari isn’t the only possibility. Instead of this traditional option, use a different aperitif instead. There are options like artichoke-based Cynar, cola-like Meletti, or Fernet Branca.
- Add a flavored liqueur, juice, or syrup: In addition to or in replacement of the vermouth, add a flavored liqueur, juice, or infused syrup to swing your drink in another direction. I’ve seen banana, grapefruit, strawberry-passion fruit, and cinnamon as options.
- Switch up the base: As mentioned, changing the base spirit will really change the flavor of your final drink. I love it with smoky mezcal!
The Boulevardier is a whiskey cocktail that has stood the test of time for good reason. Its bittersweet, complex flavors from the vermouth, bourbon, and bitter liqueur make it a must-try for any cocktail enthusiast.
Whether you’re enjoying it in a dimly lit bar or mixing it up at home, the Boulevardier is sure to transport you to the Parisian Boulevards of the Prohibition Era, one sip at a time.
So what do you think? Which version is your drink of choice: Traditional gin? Bourbon? Rye? Mezcal? Maybe you prefer a strawberry version with 2 ounces of bourbon instead of one. (Yum!) Whichever style you’re into, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Cheers!
- 1 ounce Bourbon Whiskey
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 1 each Twist of Orange Peel and/or Cherry
- In a mixing glass, add all the ingredients with ice and stir for 15-20 seconds.
- Use a julep cocktail strainer to strain the finished drink into a chilled rocks glass with one large-format cube of ice; alternatively, you can serve it up in a coupe glass.
- Garnish with an orange twist or cocktail cherry (or both).