Drink of the Week: The Boulevardier avec Punt e Mes

The Boulevardier avec Punt e Mes. The Boulevardier, which hails from Paris (where else?), has been featured here before, but it is less well known than its very close Italian relative, the Negroni. You won’t find it in as many of the classic cocktail books — it doesn’t appear in Dale DeGroff’s “The Craft of the Cocktail,” nor Robert Hess’s “The Essential Bartender’s Guide,” nor even Harry Craddock’s epochal 1930 tome, “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” but it certainly has its fans. Indeed a frequent drinking companion has long been championing the Boulevardier over the Negroni, I myself was inclined to give it a slightly lesser standing. That changed, however, with my current interest, as described in last week’s Negroni post, in substituting standard sweet vermouth with it’s Amaro-esque cousin, Punt e Mes in classic cocktails.

What I found was that switching out the very bittersweet, borderline chocolatey flavor of Punt e Mes with the more straight up, sweet-winey flavor of regular red vermouth, produces a drink that — at least some of the time — can be almost celestial in its deliciousness and which, at worst, remains a reliably pleasing concoction. Let’s give it a whirl.

The Boulevardier avec Punt e Mes

1 1/2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1 ounce Punt e Mes
1 ounce Campari
1 cocktail cherry or orange peel (desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or, if you’re so inclined, a mixing glass. Add plenty of ice, shake or, if you’re so inclined, stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add your garnish. As with the Negroni, you can strain this in a rocks glass with fresh ice, if you really want to, but I’m not particularly recommending it.


Most versions of the Boulevardier call for bourbon, but I’d steer clear of the sweeter expressions — my least favorite version of this included Maker’s Mark, which I’m ordinarily pretty fond of. Instead, using Bulleit Rye yielded a full-bodied blend of very sweet, very bitter, and just plain very good flavors. On the other hand, using a slightly less sweet bourbon like Michtner’s yielded a very nice result, so I’m not issuing any clear dogmas on the bourbon vs. rye question here. You can always split the difference and try this with a Canadian whiskey. Both Alberta Dark Rye and good ol’ Canadian Club were just dandy.

There are, of course, other variations. You can definitely play with your proportions if you like. The original Boulevardier called for equal proportions of all three ingredients and a lot of more recent versions are more whiskey-heavy. Try them all, I say. This drink can definitely withstand some experimentation.

Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the cocktailing trenches, it’s that there’s no perfect drink, and something that might send your tastebuds into the ecstatic stratosphere one night, might merit a far less enthusiastic response the next — even when you’re using the same ingredients and following the same procedure. Still, combining Punt e Mes, Campari, and whiskey seems about as repeatable a formula for boozey success as you’re likely to find.


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Drink of the Week: The Negroni con Punt e Mes

The Negroni con Punt e Mes.One of the trickiest aspects of being a home cocktailer is simply having all the right ingredients on hand for the particular drink you want to be making at any given time. It gets slightly trickier with drinks that call for vermouths, since, even when refrigerated after opening, they have a pretty limited shelf-life. Most experts advise us to use a bottle within a month or two at the latest. Sweet, dry, or blanco, they all get progressively less tasty over time.

So, when I found myself impulsively opening a bottle of Punt e Mes, a bittersweet Italian vermouth and a longtime personal favorite, I realized I’d have to do something with it soon. Mind you, while I get some things for free — including scoring myself a bottle of Punt e Mes some years back — this was a bottle I purchased with my own cash and, at $25-$30.00 a bottle, it’s not particularly cheap. So, it was time to make me some delicious Punt e Mes cocktails…except there really aren’t all that many that specifically call for it in more than very small amounts.

If you’ve never tasted Punt e Mes, know that it has a rich, strong chocolate-like undertaste that makes it a notably different animal from standard sweet vermouth. If, on the other hand, you’re familiar with the increasingly de rigeur Carpano Antica it won’t be totally foreign; I think Punt e Mes is it’s bolder, more engaging younger brother. The story goes that it was created when some quina liqueur — a strong concoction of cherry and quinine, we are told — was added to vermouth. The name means “point and a half,” presumably referring to the proportion of sweet and bitter flavorings. In any case, while it’s very much it’s own thing, Punt e Mes can be substituted in most recipes that call for regular sweet vermouth

That’s exactly what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks, recreating a couple of cocktail classics and seeing what difference one little ingredient can make. For this week, we find ourselves with what is arguably Italy’s most famed contribution to cocktails, the Negroni. I’ve dealt with this drink back in 2011 and handled an interesting variation on the classic much more recently. Still, I think this version my be my favorite iteration yet.

The Negroni (con Punt e Mes)

1 ounce gin
1 ounce Punt e Mes
1 ounce Campari
1 orange slice (highly desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake molto vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, adding your garnish. Prepare your mouth for a multilevel taste treat.


I should add right away that it’s also permissible, and arguably more traditional, to strain a Negroni into a rocks glass over fresh ice — I just don’t like it as much that way, maybe because it tends to dilute the very sweet and very bitter delights of this particular mix. I tried this with both Bombay Dry Gin and Plymouth Gin and the results were equally good. I suspect even a value priced Gordon’s variation would have been just fine as well. Some Negroni recipes pump up the gin but, for me, that only lessened the pleasure.

In any case, if you’re used to Negronis made with standard Martini or Noilly Pratt type vermouths, you’ll notice a definite difference. That chocolate undertaste I mentioned before remains strong, bolstered by the very sweet but very bitter Campari and in no way compromised by the herbaceous lightness of the gin. Indeed, I think it’s a big improvement over a standard Negroni..but next week’s variation on a Punt e Mes theme might be an even bigger upgrade over the standard version of a different (though definitely related) drink. Stay tuned.


New Year’s Cocktails — Another Drink of the Week Holiday Special

Last week‘s special selection of Christmas drink suggestions were all united by one special ingredient: fat!

While such yuletide standbys as eggnog and hot buttered rum also make excellent New Year’s party favors, it’s possible you’ve had enough rich food during the last several days for a lifetime. So, let’s focus on drinks that might rough up your liver a little but which will leave you arteries alone. And, for our special star ingredient, I’m thinking that we’ll go with that most festive, bubbliest, and Auld Lang Syny-est of cocktail ingredients: champagne, or it’s more or less identical twin, sparkling white wine.

Though a great many old school and more recent craft concoctions feature bubbly, by far the most popular and venerable champagne infused cocktail is the French 75. Conceived in 1915 at Harry’s Bar and quaffed by many of the Lost Generation writers who might have encountered the original and far more deadly French 75 on the battlefield, this drink is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s classy, fun, and — if you drink them in Hemingway/Fitzgerald proportions — will blow you sweetly to kingdom come.
French 75.

The French 75

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar or 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Champagne/sparkling white wine
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the gin, juice, and sugar or syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake with vigor and strain into a champagne glass. Top off with roughly 2-3 ounces of the dry sparkling white wine of your choice along with the lemon twist.

This is a really sturdy drink that can take a little punishment. You certainly don’t need to use the finest champagne — a half-way acceptable dry sparkling white wine should do the trick. As for the gin, anything from Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay to value-priced Gordon’s should do the trick. Also, some bartenders substitute brandy or cognac, but I still haven’t gotten around to trying that myself.

Another alternative is to go with one of the simplest, yet oddly undersung of champagne cocktails, which is to say, the Champagne Cocktail. If you’ve heard it referred to in movies like “Casablanca,” you might imagine it’s a fancy concoction. In fact, it’s anything but and is actually considered a way to class up some slightly flat bubbly. You can read the orginal post, but making is just a matter of dropping a sugar cube into a champagne flute, whetting it with some Angostura/aromatic bitters, and pouring champagne over it.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re not up for any of the hard stuff, yet maybe you’d like a fizzy white wine cocktail that’s not just fizzy white wine. For that, I give you this alluring liquid lady.

The Italian Mistress.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Sparkling white wine/champagne
1 orange twist (garnish)

For those of you who may not be up on your fancy fortified wines, Punt e Mes is essentially a sweet vermouth with a stronger bitter edge that’s almost chocolately; I love it dearly.  Start your Italian Mistress by combining the Punt e Mes with the bitters and syrup/sugar in a champagne flute. If you’re using sugar, make sure it’s good and dissolved. Fill the rest of the glass with your sparkling white wine and add the orange twist. If you’re fluteless, a regular champagne glass might do, but be aware that they’re usually smaller so you might want to adjust your proportions.

Of course, these drinks are only a few ideas out of thousands. One of the beauties of New Year’s Eve is that pretty much any mixed alcoholic beverage is in keeping with the night. It’s a great time to dust off such easy-to-make warhorses as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Martini, or Margarita. Just make sure you make ’em the right way — like I tell you to!


Drink of the Week: The Fernet Branca Cocktail

The Fernet Branca Cocktail. I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.

I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.

The Fernet Branca Cocktail

3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.


Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.

I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.

Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.


Drink of the Week: The Corpse Reviver

The Corpse Reviver. As promised when I took on the Corpse Reviver #2 last June, I’ve finally gotten around to the less known apparent original drink to bear the name. While my first attempts at a Corpse Reviver made it easy to see why it has been eclipsed by the gin and Lillet Blanc based sequel, with the right ingredients it really can wake up your taste buds and temporarily enliven your soul. We’ll simply ignore the fact that I happen to be writing most of this post on Easter Sunday of 2013.

In any case, the real reason for the name is that this drink is supposedly a hangover cure — though it’s not so much hair of the dog as a good chunk of the canine. Nevertheless, let us begin the revival.

The Corpse Reviver

1 1/2 ounces brandy or cognac
3/4 ounce Calvados or another apple brandy
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Although I’m generally in favor of shaking over stirring, I say you should stir your Corpse Reviver. Little ice crystals are the last thing you want in this drink. Nevertheless, stir vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and drink — to life, I suppose.


I messed around with the ingredients a lot on this one, but I used only one type of apple brandy. Calvados seems to be the classic choice of apple brandy for this drink and the Calvados Coquerel I’m using is expensive enough for half a fifth that I wasn’t in the mood to try out any competitors or more downhome variations. (Some recipes call for applejack.) I had just enough left over Ile de Ré Fine Island Cognac on hand to make one very sophisticated, yet perhaps too understated, version of the drink using my standard Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth.

I moved on to my personal favorite value brandy, Reynal, which isn’t made with genuine Cognac grapes but which is produced by a company with offices in the French town of Cognac. Using the Noilly Pratt vermouth along with the Calvados yielded an acceptable, but very unspectacular drink.

However, I still had some Carpano Antica on hand that had been thrown my way by mysterious benefactors — improperly stored due to a massive snafu on my part but still acceptable for use. That yielded a lovely result, with the bittersweet, chocolate-like character of the high end vermouth providing a very nice bottom against the lighter, boozier notes of the brandies. I was less pleased — but still pleased — when I tried the exact same drink with another favorite, Punt e Mes, which is in many respects very similar to Carpano but a bit sharper edged. Try it with one of those.

Now, we come to the point in these weekly missives where I usually like to make some kind of a quip or draw some larger conclusion about the drink. With a name like the Corpse Reviver, I suppose you’d expect that. The problem is that I really have no “larger” thoughts right now other than the fact that I certainly do not recommend this drink as a breakfast beverage. Maybe the gods of cinema can give me a hand.


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