Discovering the Boulevardier: A Timeless Cocktail Tale

Nov 9, 2023

Imagine the moment when a cocktail first captivates your palate—the rich tapestry of flavors, the artful balance, the sheer delight. My own revelation arrived with the Boulevardier, a cocktail that perfectly marries Bourbon, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth. Since that first sip, it has held an esteemed place in my repertoire of favorites.

The storied Boulevardier harkens back to the 1927 classic "Barflies and Cocktails" by Parisian bartender Harry McElhone. Tucked at the book's conclusion, the cocktail is attributed to a man named Erskinne Gwynne—a character as charismatic as the drink itself.

The American Cocktail Wave Hits Paris

In the years leading up to the Roaring Twenties, American cocktail culture began to flourish in the heart of Europe. With the shadow of Prohibition looming, many American bartenders foresaw the end of their era and set sail for new horizons. Among them was Tod Sloan, a celebrated jockey, who transplanted a slice of Manhattan to Paris by opening "The New York Bar" in 1911.

By 1923, Harry McElhone, one of Sloan's bartenders, had taken the reins. Under his ownership, the bar—at its famed 5, rue Daunou location—became a haven for expatriates and luminaries like Erskinne Gwynne, the editor of a literary magazine akin to The New Yorker, aptly named The Boulevardier.

The Craft of Simplicity

In the realm of bartending, mastering a three-ingredient cocktail is a testament to skill. Each element must be chosen and balanced with precision, striving for that elusive harmony. The Boulevardier is a testament to such craftsmanship, beginning with the vibrantly red Campari from Milan, followed by the sweet, caramel-kissed Italian Vermouth, and finally, the intriguing choice of Bourbon—a spirit that clandestinely survived the Prohibition era.

Bourbon's Prohibition Puzzle

Prohibition, enacted by the 18th Amendment in 1919, banned the production, sale, and transport of alcohol in the U.S. But loopholes and preparation allowed for certain stocks to be retained or sold abroad. Harry's New York Bar, therefore, might have had its supply of Bourbon through foresight, medicinal allowances, or the sheer ingenuity of its patrons and proprietors.

A Legacy Preserved

Harry's New York Bar stands as a monument to the enduring legacy of the Boulevardier. Few classic cocktails can be traced back to their origin with such precision, and fewer still are the establishments that continue to thrive nearly a century later. To drink a Boulevardier at Harry's is to sip on history, a concoction savored by literary greats and connoisseurs alike.

The Modern Boulevardier

The Boulevardier recipe remains elegantly simple:

As for the Weller Bourbon, it holds a place of distinction in the hearts of whiskey enthusiasts, with Weller 12 Year being a particularly sought-after expression. Over the past decade, this whiskey's narrative has been bittersweet, characterized by its delightful flavor profile, the frenzy of its secondary market demand, and a dramatic ascent in price. The bourbon is second only to Pappy in elusiveness.

Named in honor of William Larue Weller, a pioneer whiskey salesman of the 1800s and a key figure in the legacy of the Stitzel-Weller distillery, the Weller brand stands as a testament to innovation. Weller was reputedly among the first to champion the use of wheat instead of rye in bourbon production, although this claim has stirred some debate.

And for the vermouth aficionado, Vermouth Cinzano - Elixir China is a nod to the historic and diverse world of vermouth, an aromatized, fortified wine flavored with various botanicals. Cinzano, one of the iconic brands in the vermouth industry, has been producing vermouth in Turin, Italy, since the late 18th century. The brand is well-known for its range of vermouths, including sweet and dry versions, which have been used in countless classic cocktails over the years.

Vintage versions of Vermouth Cinzano - Elixir China would likely have been crafted with a complex recipe of herbs, spices, and botanicals, offering a nuanced and layered drinking experience. These vintage bottles can be a real treat for vermouth enthusiasts and collectors, offering a glimpse into the past tastes and production methods.

Campari, the iconic bitter aperitif, rounds out the trio. While its full recipe is a closely guarded secret, its bitter and herbal notes are unmistakable, making it a staple in the cocktail enthusiast's cabinet.

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