Looking to up your cocktail game during quarantine, but not sure where to start? Well, say you want bourbon (because yes, bourbon is as much a summer liquor as it is a fall or winter one), and you want something boozy (because quarantine). Well, we have just the thing for you.
One of the biggest cocktail fads of the last few years has got to be the rise of the Negroni. This classic Italian aperitif combines gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and an orange slice, resulting in a refreshing and bittersweet libation ideal for warm afternoons and evenings.
While the Negroni’s gin base brings appealing aromatic notes to the cocktail, those who prefer brown liquors may want to try the Boulevardier, a popular spin on this beverage that replaces gin with whiskey. The smoky wood notes of rye and bourbon pair harmoniously with the herbaceous and citrus-forward flavor profile of this drink, but because the tastes of whiskies can vary so dramatically, it’s important to choose a spirit that’s especially well-suited to the Holy Trinity of Campari, vermouth, and citrus.
With that goal in mind, we asked a group of bartenders for their favorite Boulevardier whiskies, and they offered us 10 options well worth a valued position behind your home bar.
Made from a family recipe dating back over 100 years, Maker’s Mark Bourbon remains an industry leader, producing a smooth and complex whiskey that’s an excellent fit for Boulevardiers, according to head bartender Aleksandar Jovanovic of Brooklyn Chop House in New York City. “My weapon of choice for Boulevardiers would definitely be Maker’s Mark, partly because of the name and tradition it brings with it, which makes people feel generally more comfortable ordering the cocktail. But more importantly, it’s because of the sweetness that comes from [Maker’s Mark] being a wheat bourbon whiskey that pairs nicely with the bitterness of the Campari. Also, the scent of vanilla that Maker’s Mark [produces] rounds off the drink beautifully!” Jovanovic insists.
If you want to make a top-notch Boulevardier without breaking the bank, grab a bottle of Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon. Co-owner and mixologist Johnny Swet of JIMMY at the James in New York City tells us that “for Boulevardier cocktails, I like to use a bonded high-proof bourbon like Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon. It’s less sweet than others, which balances nicely with the Campari and sweet vermouth. As a bonus, the price point is really good for such a high-quality bourbon.”
Boulevardiers contain liqueurs with substantial sugar contents, so the natural sweetness of bourbon can sometimes prove overwhelming in this cocktail. However, if you select a bourbon with a significant percentage of rye, like Four Roses Single Barrel, you’ll end up with a well-balanced cocktail. “Four Roses Single Barrel is a high-proof bourbon [that’s great for Boulevardiers]. There is a large amount of rye in the mash bill, which stands up to the residual sugars in both the Campari and Sweet Vermouth. The high alcohol content in Four Roses Single Barrel is also necessary when mixing with two lower proof alcohols — Campari (24% alcohol ) and Sweet Vermouth (usually 14%-17% alcohol). Also, Four Roses Single Barrel [is reasonably priced],” explains bar director Brandyn Tepper of Angler in San Francisco, California and Los Angeles, California.
A Boulevardier can technically include any type of whiskey as its main spirit, but cocktail traditionalists believe that, in the words of beverage director David Toby of Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas, “a proper Boulevardier should only be made with bourbon whiskey, as [this cocktail] was created during Prohibition in the US [using bourbon].”
When it comes to selecting a specific bourbon, Toby tells us that “I like Russell’s Reserve for [Boulevardiers] as it is 110 proof and can hold up to the bitterness of Campari and even some of the richer vermouths (I like Carpano Antica). I like the higher alcohol, the 10-year age, and the flavor of vanilla and toffee that is gained from the #4 alligator [barrel] char of the Russell’s. Russell’s Reserve is a good all-around crowd pleaser and everyday-drinking whiskey that makes a perfect Boulevardier.”
Infused whiskeys offer an easy way to bring other intriguing flavors to the Boulevardier party, and events manager Cameron Mealey of Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach, California has a particular favorite: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey.
“[At Bayside], we use Knob Creek Maple in our Maple Leaf Boulevardier, which is a cocktail with more warm undertones [than a traditional Boulevardier], while maintaining the richness of the original. [Using a flavored whiskey in a Boulevardier] is a great way to introduce bourbons/whisk(e)ys to people who are just starting to [think of] the spirit as an approachable option, but [Knob Creek Maple is also] sophisticated enough for those who are connoisseurs,” says Mealey.
The savory qualities present in a good rye whiskey make it a strong counterpoint to the sweetness of the Campari and vermouth in a Boulevardier, resulting in a smooth cocktail with a pleasant flavor equilibrium. For head bartender Tommy Flynn of Paper Daisy in New York City, Rittenhouse Rye is the ideal whiskey for this particular drink. “My favorite whiskey to use in anything is Rittenhouse [Rye]. It has a ton of spice and backbone and holds up to anything you can mix it with. Rittenhouse has more than enough body to hold up to the Campari and sweet vermouth in a Boulevardier,” Flynn explains.
Another rye whiskey with excellent spice notes and an appealing woodsy quality, Few
A mellow rye whiskey with subtle spice results in an elegant Boulevardier, and when beverage manager Allison Klug of The Boogie Room in New York City makes this cocktail, she opts for Whistle Pig 10 Year Rye. Klug tells us that “Whistle Pig 10 Year has always been my go-to for a Boulevardier cocktail. Their ryes in general always have the perfect punch of spice but are at the same time still super soft. Some of my best memories will always be enjoying Boulevardiers with the late Dave Pickerell, [Whistle Pig’s] master distiller. We would sip on them and debate our favorite ways to make them, laughing the night away and talking about nothing and everything at the same time. When I drink [a Whistle Pig Boulevardier], I can hear his giant laugh with every sip. His spirit lives in that drink.”
Cocktail legend Sother Teague of Honeybee’s in New York City enjoys high-rye bourbons in the Boulevardiers he makes at work, but when he’s whipping up a Boulevardier for himself to enjoy at home, “[I use] J. Reiger Kansas City Whiskey. This bottling is entirely unique, as the maker adds Oloroso sherry to the finished product. This creates a flavor that is mellowed and sweet, with hints of nuts and dried orange peel. Also, these flavors are very complimentary to sweet vermouth and Campari.”
White whiskey — also commonly known as “moonshine” — is an unaged spirit with a clean, raw flavor that can contribute to a particularly-refreshing Boulevardier. First hospitality director of food & beverage Andrew Holmes of The Keep in Columbus, Ohio likes to use Oyo Rye White Whiskey in his Boulevardiers, telling The Manual that “we use a white whiskey for our Broad Street Boulevardier at The Keep. The small-batch barrel strength white rye whiskey is barreled here in central Ohio. The Oyo is refined and distilled to provide a smoother taste and less [smokiness, which works well] for this particular version of the classic drink.”
Last updated July 2020.
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