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Negroni Week: Aged, On Tap, or the Boulevardier

Negroni Week continues with an experimental Wednesday if you will. You’ve made the Negroni as smoky as Kansas City BBQ and made it molto Italiano by replacing sweet vermouth and Gin with Cynar and Fernet Branca.

Now let’s head to the lab/ barrel room.

Of the many liquids Portland, Oregon is known for excelling at (rain, coffee, craft beer, Pinot Noir…), it is also a city with a top flight cocktail scene. Pretending to be a cocktail history scholar, you can pinpoint the Portland cocktail emergence to one drink project by one bartender at one bar. That would be the Barrel Aged Negroni by Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common. The ingredients are no different than your standard 1:1:1 Negroni, just as the Count himself would have drank in Florence some 90 years ago.

Except Morgenthaler took a page from the spirits playbook, employing the aging method and barrels that many high-end distillers use to enhance their spirits. Morgenthaler’s Negroni is standard with Campari, Beefeater Gin and Cinzano sweet vermouth. However, before being stirred, the trio gets aged two months in Tuthilltown Whiskey barrels to achieve a taste as crisp as autumn, smooth as Fred Astaire.

"Boulevardier" at Cyrus

“Boulevardier” at Cyrus

It’s a revelation, trust me. The concept born a few years ago has now exploded and bartenders from Singapore to Dublin now are aging cocktails and brewers have followed suit aging their beers in used spirit barrels, so now it is UNcommon for a brewery not to have some form of a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Russian Stout in its lineup.

Yet few, if any of these barrel aged drinks have achieved the refined elegance of the Clyde Common Barrel Aged Negroni. It is as much a part of Portland’s DNA today as Lewis and Clark or the Rose Garden. So then what is the next logical step for innovative bartenders? For bars of high volume, meticulously mixing precious individual cocktails are a pain for impatient drinkers and stressed out bartenders. Why can’t everyone just order a beer?

In comes Kevin Diedrich of Jasper’s Corner Tap in San Francisco, a gastropub- sports bar- hotel bar that would fit in Wichita or Spokane atmosphere- wise, at the edge of Union Square and the Tenderloin, where the drug trade sort of peacefully co-exists with the tourist trade. You would never guess this bar created one of the most important cocktails of the modern day.

Diedrich is an incredibly gifted bartender, so it almost feels like he’s not giving full effort by issuing cocktails on tap.

Well, yes the drinks aren’t made right before your eyes, but this Negroni could compete with the country’s elite no doubt. We’ll give Diedrich a pass. The drink is indeed from a mass quantity keg, a thought that evokes Miller Lite or Sangria at a fraternity party. End those thoughts now.

Negroni on Tap

Negroni on Tap

Throw a few cases of Plymouth Gin into the keg with sweet vermouth, and Campari, mix, and there you go. Run the drink thru the line into the glass on the rocks, garnish with an orange segment inside, and there you go. The pine notes of the Campari with some juniper of the gin, and the sweet, fruity glance of the vermouth, with citrus aromas from the twist create a brilliant cocktail…on tap. No, it doesn’t taste like beer.

Now you see cocktails on tap everywhere, often bar standards like the Negroni, Martini, or Manhattan.

However, for this Negroni Week Wednesday, chances are you’re not going to barrel age a Negroni or craft a Negroni on tap tonight. I got to thinking about an exceptional Oak Barrel Aged Boulevardier I enjoyed last Fall at the late, great restaurant Cyrus, a Michelin two star destination in Healdsburg, California (think The French Laundry of Sonoma Valley).

The Boulevardier is a basic Negroni adaptation, replacing Gin with Bourbon. The drink actually was created before the Negroni around the turn of the 20th Century by an American ex-pat who published a magazine called Boulevardier in Paris. That’s some good publicity for the magazine.

Barrel Aged Negroni at Clyde Common, Portland

Barrel Aged Negroni at Clyde Common, Portland

In general for more of a Bourbon emphasis, the 1:1:1 ratio becomes 1.5 Bourbon: 1: 1 in The Boulevardier. Cyrus took this one step further, replacing the Gin with Weller Bourbon and the Campari with Gran Classico (a burnt orange colored herbal Italian apertivo that is slightly sweeter and less spicy than Campari). The recipe includes the traditional sweet vermouth component, then adds a dash of Fees’ Orange Bitters. Let’s just say your Boulevardier should not be red and tastes heavily of, but not to a Manhattan spirit forward point, of Bourbon.

Cyrus aged its Boulevardier for six months in oak barrels used for various wines (this is Sonoma Wine Country after all). I’m not telling you to go age your Boulevardier tonight, but a regular Boulevardier is the consummate Negroni variation, and a wonderful way to celebrate the cocktail’s spotlight week.

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