The 1794 Cocktail is a welcome modernization of the Boulevardier, whiskey-heavy, with rye in place of bourbon. Attributed to Dominic Venegas, it is a natural evolution of that drink, and changes a classic but not-so-good mishmash into a deliciously bright and drinkable Manhattanesque whiskey cocktail.

The original Boulevardier is typical of the Prohibition-era expatriate cocktail. First published by Harry McElhone in 1927, it combines good old American bourbon with a then-unknown European amaro, Campari:

Boulevardier Cocktail

  • 1 oz Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Campari

Combine ingredients and stir until very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Where did the Parisians get all that Bourbon during Prohibition? There must be a story there somewhere…

Less typical is that the Boulevardier, like its more famous cousin, the Negroni, is an equal parts drink. These are eye-catching as a class, some of them even delicious if made properly, but with their arbitrary and unwavering proportions they fight an uphill battle for credibility as anything more than parlor tricks. Negroni has succeeded; others (including Boulevardier), not so much.

The secret of this parlor trick, of course, is to balance the intensity, rather than the quantity, of each constituent in order to balance the drink. It works with the Negroni’s gin—if you can find the right gin—but matching the intensity of Campari with whiskey is not an easy thing.  Campari can be a difficult and overbearing ingredient.

In the Boulevardier, the bourbon doesn’t really match all that well, but it makes a fine starting point—increasing the whiskey actually improves the drink. And that is where the 1794 comes into the picture.

1794 Cocktail, photo copyright © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The 1794 Cocktail

The 1794 doubles down on the whiskey, and substitutes the spicier notes of rye. It provides what amounts to a nice, bright Manhattan—rye driven, with a slightly floral, or at least herbal, nose,  a middle taste of sweet and bitter, and a crisp and clean aftertaste.

1794 Cocktail

  • 2 oz Rye whiskey (Wild Turkey 101 or Rittenhouse 100)
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth (M&R Rosso)
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 dropper Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole bitters (optional)
  • orange or lemon twist for garnish (optional)

Combine ingredients and stir until very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail glass, optionally garnish with orange or lemon twist.

McElhone’s original called for bourbon, but it is too sweet for the 1794. This is a good showcase for high-proof ryes. Besides, bourbon isn’t really in the spirit of this drink—it’s called the “1794,” after all, commemorating the Whiskey Rebellion; the whiskey of the day, the macguffin at the heart of the conflict, was rye whiskey. (Jay Hepburn at Oh Gosh! has suggested that a rye-forward bourbon like Buffalo Trace might be an acceptable substitute; he’s really exploring adjustments to salvage the original Boulevardier, and along the way basically reinvents the 1794. I didn’t have any Buffalo Trace, but I did try it with some rye-heavy Bulleit; it was… okay… but I’ll stick to the rye on this one.

Given the “acquired taste” reputation of Campari, I thought I’d try substituting a less aggressive amaro to see what happened. Aperol came to hand, mostly because it stuck to Campari’s ostentatious red color scheme. The result is drinkable, but lackluster compared to the Campari version; something in the Campari provides a spicy brightness that just isn’t there in the more orangy, earthy Aperol variant.

1794 Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

If you want to tart this drink up a bit, Jessica at Cocktail Virgin describes a variant that includes Bittermen’s Xocolatl Mole Bitters. I tried it, it’s good. Very good. The chocolate offers a richness to the flavor palate, and helps balance and round the flavors in the mix.

As for the Whiskey Rebellion: the result of that uprising in terms of winners and losers has always been open to interpretation. The tax protesters sort of won, mostly lost; the government mostly compromised, sort of won. One thing I know is that whiskey drinkers won—among other things, the 1794 conflict contributed to the invention of the Bourbon whiskey industry, as many whiskey-making farmers of western Pennsylvania moved west into the corn-friendly land of Kentucky, or south to French New Orleans, and farther from the view of Federalist George Washington’s excise tax collectors.