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How to Make a Boulevardier Cocktail

How to Make a Boulevardier Cocktail

The Boulevardier cocktail is a classic drink composed of Campari, sweet vermouth and whiskey. At its most basic, it’s simply a Negroni that swaps a clear spirit (gin) with one that has seen some oak (whiskey). This seemingly minor tweak creates a vastly different flavor profile that has earned this drink a dedicated place in the cocktail canon.

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The drink pre-dates Prohibition, but its first printed mention comes courtesy of Harry MacElhone’s influential 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails. MacElhone, you may recall, was the famed bartender of London’s Ciro Club and Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, and is often credited as the inventor of classics from the Sidecar to the Pink Lady because his recipes are among the first to be widely published.

However, while MacElhone popularized the drink, he attributed its invention to Erskine Gwynne, a wealthy American socialite from the Vanderbilt family who moved to Paris to start a literary magazine called The Boulevardier, meaning a “man about town.”

Is a Boulevardier Rye or Bourbon?

As with many whiskey cocktails, there’s often a debate as to whether bourbon or rye is the better choice. MacElhone printed multiple versions of the recipe and flip-flopped between the spirits. One specifically called for Canadian Club rye and another mentioned that Gwynne preferred bourbon.

This ambiguity has led bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts to customize the drink according to taste. The bold, spirit-forward beverage works well with both standard and high-proof whiskeys. “The Boulevardier is a great dealer’s choice for whiskey drinkers,” says Liz Kelley, head bartender at Cure, a New Orleans establishment heralded as one of the top 50 bars in North America. “It’s a great platform to express the bigger flavors in one’s whiskey of choice.”

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The ability to personally tailor this three-ingredient drink goes well beyond choosing between bourbon, rye or another whiskey; it has essentially turned the Boulevardier into its own cocktail category. “There’s ample room for interpretation,” Kelley says. “Replace the Campari with another red bitter such as Gran Classico or Carpano and you have a totally different drink.”

Kelley’s favorite variation is an Old Pal with rye, Campari and dry vermouth rather than sweet, which, she says, “yields a high-spice, clean dry sipper accented beautifully with a lemon peel.”

If you want to play around with ingredients, we have roundups of our favorite vermouths and red bitters to try. But, regardless of the adaptation or ingredients, Kelley recommends always serving your Boulevardier up

Boulevardier Recipe

  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ½ ounce whiskey
  • Lemon or orange peel, for garnish

Step 1

Combine all ingredients except garnish in a chilled mixing glass filled with ice. Stir for 30–45 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish by twisting an orange or lemon peel over the drink, and drop it in.

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