Food & dining

sips

A bittersweet Italian aperitif takes center stage

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Boulevardier might not be in the regular repertoire of many casual cocktail drinkers, but considering its close proximity to another, more well-known classic, the Negroni, there’s reason it should be. Boulevardier actually predates the Negroni, with its first mention coming in 1927 in “Barflies and Cocktails” by Harry McElhone, of the Prohibition-era Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. The cocktail is a simple, intuitive lateral move, particularly for whiskey drinkers who find the botanicals of a gin to be a bit exaggeratedly floral when paired with sweet vermouth.

The format of the recipe invites plenty of variation. At Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Boulevardier from the Bronx takes rye instead of bourbon, Aperol instead of Campari, with a tincture of absinthe, Angostura bitters, and Maraschino. Use Canadian whiskey and dry vermouth and you’ve got an Old Pal. But the real star of the show, as it so often is any time it takes the stage, is the bittersweet Italian aperitif, Campari.

At Cinquecento in the South End, bar chef Matt Coughlin has devised a way to bring Campari further into the spotlight. For the Armonia (harmony in Italian), Coughlin infuses Campari with chiles. The type of peppers used will vary; at the moment, he is rotating Anaheim, longhorn, and serrano chiles.

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When heat in cocktails uses a light touch, it can bring a completely new frame of reference to a familiar flavor. Peppers allow the bitter citrus notes to linger on the palate longer. It’s a bonus for Campari lovers, prolonging the effects of each sip.

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Timing is important. Coughlin lets a single chile sit in a bottle of Campari for a day, he says, and “24 hours really gives it all the flavor you need; you pull everything out of the chile at that point. Campari has a lot of depth on its own, with the bitterness, herbs, and good citrus balance. But the only thing it doesn’t have is spice. Adding heat to it gives it another layer.”

For further experimentation, try substituting Aperol, a sweeter analog, in which case Coughlin recommends going a bit hotter, perhaps with a Thai bird chile.

Once you’ve infused the Campari, you can keep it on hand for more mixing, or for drinking solo. Sipping the infused Campari alone is much spicier, of course, but it’s an intriguing heat, the kind you need to keep going back to, to make sure you liked it as much as you thought.

Luke O’Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47@gmail.com.