Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Boulevardier Cocktail

Happy New Year, compadres! During this time of reckless resolutions, I wanted to assure my readership that I would remain steadfast in my championing of tipitular delights. After all, for the sake of good cheer and generous spirit, there is nothing quite like a raised glass and a toast to good health - naysayers be damned.

In a May 2011 post about the 1794 Cocktail, I made reference to a drink called the Boulevardier. Though similar to the 1794, the Boulevardier has slightly different ratios (and no aromatic bitters). Elegant in name, sublime in color, and a delight on the palate, this complex, gently bittersweet dram greets the sipper with an enticing aroma of citrus oil. Upon first taste, the tongue is enlivened by a dance of flavors flitting from bitter, to citrus, to savory, with a flash of sweetness and a very dry finish.

Actually, 100 years of cheers as of November 2011.
The Boulevardier has an interesting story. Ironically, an unintended side-effect of the Prohibition was the advent of mixed drinks (using juices and other mixers to obscure the harshness of illegal bathtub hooch). And, as Ted Haigh notes in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, the Prohibition also put barkeeps out of work - though an intrepid few ventured overseas to Europe. There, their early American cocktails commingled with relatively exotic aperitifs of the Old World - such as Campari, at the time virtually unknown in the U.S.

And so it was that barman Harry MacElhone (or McElhone, variously) ended up, eventually, in Paris. He worked at the New York Bar, acquired by American jockey James Forman "Tod" Sloan in 1911. In 1923, MacElhone gained ownership of the bar, rechristening it Harry's New York Bar. Today, a legendary and fantastic landmark, it still stands at "sank roo doe noo" (5 Rue Daunou) in Paris.

Eventually, the recipe for the Boulevardier made its debut in Harry MacElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails. As Haigh points out, this cocktail is essentially a Negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) made with bourbon instead of gin. However, Haigh also makes it clear that the Negroni "would not see print for another twenty years."

The name is derived from a contemporaneous publication, The Paris Boulevardier, as the drink was the favored tipple of that rag's editor, Erskine Gwynne.

Incidentally, during a couple of trips my wife and I made to Paris in the early noughties, Harry's New York Bar became our mainstay - despite the fact that it was located across the city from our lodgings. The Bloody Mary was invented at Harry's, along with the White Lady, the French 75, the Sidecar, and the Monkey Gland (among others). As one of the few places in Paris where a "martini" refers to the gin cocktail and not just dry vermouth with a twist, it was a happy find. They also made a mean Manhattan, and the bartender was a true artiste, operating with economical style and flair, in black tie and crisp, white apron. We watched him turn out a Mojito laden with a bouquet of mint, for an unsuspecting Frenchman to try (and we were witness to his delight). In fact, despite its name, Harry's New York Bar had a cadre of regulars - most of whom were French. Additionally, its literary heritage was appealing to me, as a haunt of many writers, such as Hemingway and Sartre, not to mention celebs including Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth, among others. If you wish to slake your thirst in Paris, sidle up to the counter at Harry's for a true Parisian experience. Oh, and if you get hungry, you can order chiens chauds (hot dogs).

Enough idle chatter. The Boulevardier calls for bourbon, and not having bourbon on hand (What?, you exclaim) I used Old Overholt rye, which was a delightful substitute. For the vermouth, Ted Haigh recommends the fantastic Carpano Antica Formula ("it will make your tongue sing"), but I applied the equally sublime Vya sweet vermouth, what comes out of California. There is no substituting the final ingredient: Campari. It's bitterness does not appeal to everyone, but I have grown accustomed to it and now I truly love it. Yes, it has a bitter attack, but it is tempered beautifully by the sweet vermouth and the whiskey; it also offers a subtle orange evolution on the palate, which is only enhanced by a squeeze of orange peel over the drink (I differ from Haigh, who recommends a cherry). I say, go with orange peel!

And without further ado:

The Boulevardier Cocktail

1 1/2 oz bourbon or rye
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
Garnish: orange twist

Stir with ice in a mixing glass until very cold, and strain into a cocktail glass. Take a swath of orange peel (avoiding the pith) and squeeze over the drink, so that the citrus oils spritz across the surface.

This drink is a delight. And this is my first post of 2012.

So, get yer bottoms up!

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