Replace the gin in a Negroni with an American whiskey and you get the Boulevardier. But for some mixologists, this simple swap of base liquors isn’t enough. Aging the ingredients in a barrel and garnishing the cocktail with a flamed orange twist immeasurably enhances the taste — and is just plain fun.
“It’s really photogenic; it’s a great color,” Doug Brickel, beverage director and co-owner of Cork and Kerry in Floral Park, says of the speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar’s Barreled Boulevardier, which is made up of Old Overholt Rye, Dolin Rouge Vermouth and Gran Classico Bitter. “It’s a bright, rich orange.”
Ascribed to Erskine Gwynne, an American-born writer who founded a monthly magazine in Paris called Boulevardier, the boulevardier cocktail is traditionally composed of two parts bourbon, one part sweet red vermouth and one part Campari. The ingredients are then poured on ice and stirred. It’s garnished with either a cherry or an orange peel.
“I think what you’re seeing now in forward-thinking cocktail bars is a lot of thoughtful reimaginings of classical and neoclassical cocktails through the substitution of carefully selected spirits for their classical counterparts,” he says. “With that thought process, you can generally preserve the original balance of the drink while updating it for the drinking public.”
The beverage boss subbed the Campari with Gran Classico in an attempt to make a more customer-friendly version of the Boulevardier.
“Campari can be a very, very aggressive bitter,” Brickel says.
The two most important ingredients in the Barreled Boulevardier are charred oak and time.
“There was a trend for a while with people with barrel-aged cocktails,” he says. “Taking drinks without fresh components — things that aren’t going to go bad — throwing them in a wooden barrel, and keep it right on the bar. Fill it up, give it seven weeks, and when you pull it out, the whole thing changes.
“It’s going to oxidize,” he continues. “It’s going to get nutty. You’ll get some barrel char off of it, so it will smooth out. The flavor will just change.”
Cork and Kerry batched the boulevardier in February 2016, and it’s been aging in the five-liter barrel, which is charred on the inside — like it would be for bourbon — ever since.
“The barrel was filled up with equal parts of the three ingredients,” he says. “As the level drops to 75 to 80 percent, we refill with equal parts of the same ingredients, ensuring consistency in product while allowing for the flavors to change over time due to contact with air and charred oak.”
The “barrel juice” went from tasting differently day-to-day to week-to-week. The mix’s flavor has remained steady for quite a while now.
“There’s always more old than new,” he says. “The old is always getting older, and if you consider that older is better, every time you pour one it’s the best one that’s ever come out of there.”
The mix develops roundness, nuttiness and depth of flavor in the barrel.
“Over the time it’s taken on the vanilla,” Brickel says. “The vermouth, which you usually want to keep cold because it’s wine based, we let go. It’s been sitting in room temperature for a year and half.”
Cork and Kerry Barreled Boulevardier is also garnished differently than the traditional Boulevardier.
“For garnish what we’ll do is cut a little orange twist and then — the oils on the outside are flammable — so we’ll squeeze it over the drink through a match to caramelize some of the oils,” he says. “It adds a little flavor, and obviously, it’s a fun show.”
Cork and Kerry is located at 143 Tulip Avenue in Floral Park and 24 S. Park Ave. in Rockville Centre.