The Boulevardier is my favorite cocktail. Bitter, sweet, and complex, this drink showcases the perfect pairing of Campari and sweet vermouth. The whiskey draws the flavors together, creating a nuanced cocktail to sip and contemplate.
Isn’t the Boulevardier just a Negroni with whiskey instead of gin? No, my friend, it’s a different experience altogether. While they share two of three ingredients, the similarities end there. The Boulevardier is complex and refined, while the Negroni is brash and in-your-face. If the Boulevardier is a jazz trio, the Negroni is a punk rock band.
This three-ingredient cocktail is easy to make, but you can spend a lifetime experimenting with whiskeys and vermouths to find your favorite blend. Enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
History of the Boulevardier
The word boulevardier, in French, means “a man about town.” (It’s pronounced boo-luh-var-dee-ay). The cocktail’s creation is credited to Erskinne Gwynne, an American expat living in Paris during prohibition, who edited a monthly magazine called The Boulevardier. He was a Parisian socialite and liked to frequent bars on the boulevards of Paris during the 1920s.
He is credited with the recipe in the epilogue of Harry McElhone’s 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails. McElhone was another American prohibition-era expat, a bartender, and founder of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, where Gwynne was a regular.
However, the original recipe for the Boulevardier was published in 1920 in McElhone’s earlier work, Harry of Ciro’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, leading some to conclude that the Boulevardier may have been created before the Negroni, which has dubious origins around 1918. Maybe we should describe the more-popular Negroni as “a Boulevardier with gin.”
In its original recipe, the Boulevardier was an equal-parts cocktail, like the Negroni. However, most modern recipes reduce the Campari and vermouth proportions so the whiskey has more space to add the warmth and complexity that make this cocktail truly special.
Why I love this cocktail
I love Campari.
But let’s face it – it’s not very good alone. Campari is loud and obnoxious, like a drummer playing solo. Campari needs to be joined by a good band to sound musical.
So we add vermouth. The right vermouth is like a jazz pianist on a baby grand. It’s sweet and complex and carries the melody. With Campari and vermouth together, you now have music. (Add a splash of soda and you have an Americano cocktail).
The whiskey completes the trio as the double bass. It holds down the groove, matching the rhythm of the drums with the musicality of the piano. It adds dimension without competing for the same frequencies. With the addition of whiskey, the Boulevardier feels complete – harmonious, complex, and exciting. Full of possibility.
If you like to tinker, the Boulevardier is a cocktail for endless experimenting. Change whiskeys, switch vermouths, and adjust the proportions based on the particular characteristics of your chosen spirits. With some rye whiskeys, you can use the same amount of Campari and vermouth as whiskey, making an equal-parts cocktail. If you have a sweeter bourbon, dial back the Campari and vermouth so they don’t overpower the whiskey. Let your own taste be the guide, and enjoy tinkering to find your perfect Boulevardier.
Boulevardier Cocktail recipe
- 1.5 oz Whiskey
- 3/4 oz Campari
- 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
- Orange Peel
- Combine ingredients in a mixing glass
- Fill the mixing glass with cracked ice and stir until chilled
- Strain into a chilled coupe glass
- Using your Y-Peeler, carve a strip of peel from the orange. Squeeze the peel over the cocktail to express the oils into the glass, then drop the peel in as a garnish.
Detailed instructions and notes
This cocktail is all spirits, so don’t shake it.
Combine all ingredients and crack ample ice into your mixing glass. Stir long enough to properly chill the cocktail – about 30-45 seconds.
Strain into a coupe glass. Express an orange peel over the surface and garnish.
Or, you can pour it over ice in a rocks glass. Some people like it that way. I prefer the drink served “up” (without ice), but this is a classic cocktail with many variations created during its 100 year history. Drink it the way you like it.
Best vermouth for a Boulevardier
The vermouth you select will make or break this cocktail. While I haven’t tried every vermouth available, I have tried many and some can’t stand up to the Campari, or just aren’t to my taste. These vermouths pair best with Campari:
- Carpano Antica Formula – Antica Formula is made using the original recipe from 1786. In my opinion, this is the best vermouth for the Boulevardier.
- Punt e Mes – An interesting alternative, this vermouth has both sweet and bitter components. It also pairs well with Campari and creates a spicier cocktail.
- Cinzano Rosso – Another classic Italian vermouth, Cinzano Rosso has a similar flavor to Antica Formula and makes for a fantastic alternative.
You can’t go wrong any of these vermouths. I stay away from the Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth. I do not like it at all.
Best whiskey for a Boulevardier
There are many more options for whiskey than for vermouth. Look for a whiskey that can stand up to the strong flavor of the Campari, drawing the drink together. My best results have come from rye whiskies or bourbons with a high rye content.
Here are my recommendations:
- Sazerac Rye – This is my favorite. It has enough spiciness to stand up to the Campari and pairs extremely well with Carpano Antica.
- Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon – This bourbon is a little sweeter and pairs very well with Punt e Mes.
- Rittenhouse Rye – I’m currently experimenting with this one and it has great promise. This is a good rye for an equal-parts Boulevardier.
- Bulleit Rye – Bulleit used to be a staple in my liquor cabinet, and it’s a fine whiskey for this cocktail. I haven’t bought it in a while because I’ve fallen in love with the Sazerac Rye.
While I obviously favor rye, let your own taste be the judge.
Tell me your favorite whiskey and vermouth for a Boulevardier in the comments below!