Friday, September 21, 2012

Cocktails of the Week: The Boulevardier/The Old Pal

I promised a favorite variation on the Negroni last time, didn’t I? I lied. I’m spotlighting two of them. I’m just that generous.

For an object lesson in how changing a single ingredient can transform a cocktail completely, look no further than the Boulevardier (pictured). In last week’s Negroni, I merely altered the kind of Italian vermouth used to give the drink a different complexion. Child’s play. The Boulevardier keeps the rosso and the Campari and jettisons the gin for whiskey.

The drink was first publicized by Harry McElhone, the one-time bartender at New York’s Plaza Hotel who hied himself to points continental in the wake of the Volstead Act and eventually opened Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Harry also penned a pair of manuals, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (1922) and the admirably titled Barflies and Cocktails (1927). The Boulevardier is cited in both. It was the regular drink of Erskine Gwynne, a wealthy young American – one of the Vanderbilts, don’t you know – who came to Paris to publish a literary magazine called, you guessed it, The Boulevardier. Gwynne, according to some accounts, may even have invented the cocktail. We do know that Harry set the formula in print decades before the Negroni, the drink that clearly inspired it, was introduced to Americans.

So you’ve changed one element of the Negroni. Once again I quote the immortal wisdom of Homer Simpson: you can’t go this far and not go further. Change another element and see where that lands you.

Harry McElhone did. In Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails he also includes the Old Pal. This drink, named by “Sparrow” Robertson, then sporting editor of the New York Herald in Paris, switches from sweet to dry vermouth to produce a wholly distinct experience. Of the two I prefer the Boulevardier, which is sweeter, fuller, and akin to a slightly bitter Manhattan. But there are times when the resolute sharpness of the Old Pal is what the doctor ordered.

Some notes on preparation: Both original recipes, like that of the Negroni, called for equal parts. They’re still quite good that way but contemporary versions tend to be spirit forward, which is reflected below. The Boulevardier can be made with either bourbon or rye; I prefer the latter for many reasons, but in this instance it’s because it stands up to the Campari better.

The Boulevardier 

1 ½ oz. rye or bourbon
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. Campari

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry or a lemon twist. But choose the cherry. And the rye.

The Old Pal 

1 ½ oz. rye
¾ oz. dry vermouth
¾ oz. Campari

Stir. Strain. No garnish.