Recipe by Andy Nelson
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, Tennessee
“Easy to drink, timeless, seasonless—it’s good in the winter or the summer. It’s got a little bit of everything—the bitter, the sweet, the whiskey,” says Andy Nelson, co-owner and head distiller at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville. “The Boulevardier I can drink all night. Or day.”
While Prohibition was a dark time in America, Europe kept the party going. Many top bar talents migrated from the States, and Scottish-born bartender Harry McElhone documented the burst of creativity they inspired in Barflies & Cocktails, published in 1927. The book marks the first appearance of the Boulevardier, crediting the recipe to Erskine Gwynne, a descendant of the Vanderbilt family and Prohibition-era expat who published a literary magazine in Paris called Boulevardier. The drink is simply a Negroni that replaces gin with whiskey, which brings sweetness and oaky spice.
“The Boulevardier sparked something in my mind about cocktail ‘theory,’ if you will,” Nelson says. “I’ve never been a bartender, but the Boulevardier helped me understand cocktails.”
Nelson may not have experience slinging drinks, but whiskey is definitely in his blood. His great-great-great grandfather, Charles Nelson, ran the successful Green Brier Distillery in Tennessee, which shut down in 1909 when Prohibition came into effect in the state. Andy and his brother, Charlie, rediscovered this family history and revived the brand in 2009. In 2012, their Belle Meade Bourbon was a runner-up in G&G’s Made in the South Awards, and in 2014 they fired up their own distillery in Nashville. Today, Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey and Belle Meade Bourbon brands are available in 20 states, and the company plans to release its first bottling of house-distilled four-year-old Tennessee whiskey next year.
“I generally prefer bourbon over rye, even in traditional rye cocktails. I prefer the sweetness of a bourbon to the spice of a rye. It’s just more comforting to me,” Nelson says. In the Boulevardier, bourbon and sweet vermouth help balance the bitterness of Campari, an Italian liqueur flavored with citrus and bitter gentian root. Nelson suggests Carpano Antica Formula for the vermouth, and his own Belle Meade Single Barrel or Willett Pot Still Reserve for the bourbon.