Bubbly Before the Ballot Box
A French 75. Courtesy Gary J. Wood used under CC 2.0
Champagne Cocktails to Lift the Spirits
Champagne Cocktails to Lift the Spirits
Between the funny weather and the depressing presidential race, I’m finding my mood in serious need of a restorative cocktail or two, or three. Unlike wine or straight hooch, a cocktail involves more than one ingredient, and some effort and concentration to make it correctly. This simple act of mixing a drink itself helps shift the mind (even if only temporarily) to lighter and more superficial topics.
Since champagne enlivens most social gatherings, champagne cocktails are a most worthy place to start. These are best served in a six-ounce champagne flute and all the liquid ingredients should be chilled before use. A great kosher champagne for this is the Drappier Carte d’Or, Brut.
Classic Champagne Cocktail
Developed in the nineteenth century, the classic champagne cocktail has remained enormously popular. Ingredients: 1 sugar cube; 1 lemon peel twist; Angostura bitters; champagne (a decent dry sparkling wine, like a good Spanish Cava will work just fine).
Recipe: drop the sugar cube in the bottom of the flute, saturate with a few dashes of Angostura bitters, allow to soak up for a few moments, and then fill with the bubbly and garnish with the twist of lemon peel.
Enhanced Champagne Cocktail
To take the classic to the next level, fortify it. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cognac before pouring the champagne. During British colonial rule in India, this version was known as the Maharajah’s Burra-Peg. It was known as Kings Ruin elsewhere during the same period through today.
A wonderfully refreshing and light champagne cocktail is the mimosa. According to legend, this was invented at the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris sometime after the World War I. Traditionally it is just 3 parts champagne to 2 parts chilled orange juice. If you add a ½ tablespoon of triple sec liqueur and reduce the orange juice to no more than two tablespoons, the results are a touch more, well, intoxicating.
Death in the Afternoon
Death in the Afternoon is sometimes called The Hemingway or Hemingway Champagne because it was invented by the novelist Ernest Hemingway. Given the same name as his 1932 book about bullfighting, Hemingway published the recipe in a 1935 cocktail book called So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, which featured cocktail recipe contributions from 30 leading authors. His instructions: “Pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”
A jigger is a shot, or 1.5 fluid ounces. Personally, I find this to be way too much anise flavor that overwhelms the champagne. Instead, mix not more than 1 tablespoon of absinthe or pastis with one teaspoon of water and then add the bubbly.
Next up is the exquisitely simple Black Velvet. According to legend, this cocktail was first created by the bartender of the historic Brook’s Club in London, England in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert, the “prince consort” of Queen Victoria. The drink was said to symbolize the black armbands worn by mourners. Made of equal measures of heady stout beer (such as Guinness Extra Stout), and brut champagne, this is surprisingly refreshing and seductive. Though the ingredients would seem incongruous, the mixture always seems to balance out just beautifully. Dangerously easy to drink, and especially good with fried foods.
Some prepare the Black Velvet by pouring both the beer and the champagne simultaneously, one in each hand, so that they blend perfectly at the outset, while others prefer first pouring one and then gently pouring the other over the back of a spoon so that the liquid runs down the sides and mixes only partially, due to the differing densities. While this floating effect presentation is nice enough, it is strictly speaking unnecessary.
Finally, no champagne cocktail list would be complete without a French 75. While this is traditionally served in a champagne flute, I find this is equally good in a large goblet over ice. Don’t take too long to drink it as the dilution from the melting ice will throw the balance. The drink is said to have been created by famed barman Harry MacElhone in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris (later renamed Harry’s New York Bar). The name harkens to its WWI origins, as the drink is said to have a kick akin to being shelled by the rapid firing 75-millimeter M1897 of the French field artillery. The British novelist Alec Waugh, older brother of the more famous Evelyn, said it was “the most powerful drink in the world.”
I don’t know if that’s true—or even a desirable attribute—but it’ll certainly repair a sour mood in a jiffy.
Here is my preferred version: In cocktail shaker filled 3/4s full of hard, cracked ice, combine 3 tablespoons (1 and 1/2 ounces) of gin, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) fresh lemon juice, and 1 healthy teaspoon of superfine sugar. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds or so, strain into a champagne flute (or the large ice-filled goblet), then top with brut champagne. A popular variation is to switch cognac for the gin – also awfully nice, but very different. Just depends on your tastes. Either way, garnish with a twist of lemon peel and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary.