The Boulevardier was invented in Paris in the early 1930s by an American journalist, Erskine Gwynne. It was basically made as a bourbon variation of the Negroni. The word boulevardier is a French term for a wealthy, fashionable socialite man. Similar to the English term “man about town” It is easy to mispronounce the name if you don’t speak French ( I don’t and I had to look it up the first time I heard of this drink ) but the phonetic way to say it is “bool-ah-vard-ee-a”. If you say this wrong the first few times, then you are in good company, because everyone struggles with the name of this cocktail at first so just Google it so you can hear someone say it.
Ordering a boulevardier
The Boulevardier is a very cool drink to order and has tricked people into thinking I am more sophisticated than I really am. The Negroni has an old man connotation but the boulevardier is what young high class men order. In addition any bar can make it. Every bar from your small normal corner bar to a high class craft bar and you won’t look out of place ordering it either. There are very few cocktails you can say that about. So if the bar has a liquor license, then they can make the boulevardier. The bartender will already know what it is and it will be made pretty well too.
The boulevardier is a very well balance tasting cocktail. The medicinal bitter Campari is complimented nicely by the herbal sweet Vermouth, all with a nice caramel-y, vanilla-y bourbon base. It’s a simple and fantastic drink worthy of all the praise it gets. That being said it is not for everyone. I like strong drinks and herbal flavors so its perfect for someone like me. My wife on the other hand is more a Moscow Mule kind of person and she would never want a drink like this. If you like Manhattans or Negronis then you will love this cocktail but if you are more a rum and coke or Moscow mule kind of person then you will not like the boulevardier.
Variations of the Boulevardier
Four popular varitions of the Boulevardier are:
- Man About Town
The boulevardier is actually a variation of the Negroni which predates the boulevardier by about 10 years. The Negroni has a drier and more herbal taste than the boulevardier but they are very similar drinks. Another variation is the Americano which predates the negroni and is the first cocktail to use Campri. In fact the Americano was invented by Gaspare Campari himself and originally called the Milano-Torino. Its a totally different drink though and is more a refreshing highball with a similar flavor profile. Very few people have heard of the Patricia. It swaps the sweet vermouth for dry vermouth and that makes it a very dry and bitter drink, much more than even the Negroni. I like Negronis but the Patricia is a bit too much for even me. If you are the person who thinks the Negroni is not dry or bitter enough for you then you may like the Patricia.
The Most Important Ingredient
The most important ingredient in this is the sweet vermouth. There is only one Campari and while bourbon provides a nice vanilla and toasted oak base to the drink and does matter, it’s the sweet vermouth that will make a biggest difference. The subtle bourbon flavors are overpowered by the strong campari and vermouth flavors. There are not really any bad sweet vermouths and the cheaper stuff works fine but there are a few amazing ones out there too. I usually buy smaller 375ml bottles of sweet vermouth because it is wine based and like all wines it goes bad after a little while. It has a slightly longer shelf life than normal red wine but not much more. When I buy the larger 750ml bottles I find half of it ends up spoiled before I finish using it. So instead of spending $7 for a large normal bottle of sweet vermouth that you will end up wasting half of, spend $13 for an amazing bottle of sweet vermouth that’s half the size but you will actually finish. Once you start using really nice sweet vermouth you will never want to use anything else. It makes a very noticeable difference for not that much more money.