Sunday, February 23, 2014

Champagne Cocktails

Jack Bettridge
Issue: December 31, 2012

You've overstocked on Champagne for midnight toasting at your big New Year's Eve soiree. But what to offer guests who crave something more on the order of a mixed drink? Fear not. One of the makings of delicious mixtures is already chilling on ice. Great cocktails built with Champagne and other sparkling wines have such an illustrious tradition that they should fit in well with anyone's sense of auld lang syne.

As hard as it may be for purists to swallow, revelers have been mixing sparkling wine cocktails for at least a century and a half. Champagne's combination of fizz, acidity and diversity of styles makes it—and for that matter most any sparkling wine—a felicitous companion in a range of creations. However, the drink that bears the name "Champagne Cocktail"—a lump of bitters-soaked sugar, drowned in Champagne and topped with a lemon twist—is the most lackluster. Why adulterate good bubbly like that?

It might do better with a touch of Cognac, suggests Kim Haasarud, who wrote 101 Champagne Cocktails (Wiley), and also posits that the choice of sparkling wine is an important consideration for each cocktail. For this one, she prescribes Veuve Clicquot or Perrier-Jouët, which bring a brioche-flavored breadiness and a honey-ginger note to the affair.

In other cases, the addition of sparkling wine dresses up a cocktail typically made with a simple white wine. The Kir, a French black currant liqueur-and-white wine aperitif, gets a special occasion improvement through a sparkling wine replacement, and seems more grown-up. As such, it is rightly called Kir Royale.

Mark Twain is often incorrectly attributed with the first written reference to a Champagne Cocktail, in 1869's The Innocents Abroad. The true first-known use actually came with Robert Tomes' lavish 1855 account of the making of a "Champagne cock-tail" during a trip along the then-new Panama Canal Railway. It is described to him as "the most delicious thing in the world." Happily, by 1861 Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management includes the Champagne Cup, with brandy or curaçao and borage or cucumber rind. The author praises Champagne for the "delicate flavour and the agreeable pungency" derived from the carbonic acid that it brings to the party.

Soon all manner of things were admixed to sparkling wine, from fruits and their juices to exotic liqueurs and spices. As time wore on, classics were discovered. In the World War I, the French 75, a cannon that fired rounds with remarkable speed and accuracy, gave its name to a Champagne drink made with gin and lemon juice that also hit its mark. Haasarud uses a balanced sparkling wine, such as Moët & Chandon Imperial, Mumm's or Piper-Heidsieck, as their dryness and acidity countered with a touch of fruit can enhance the citrus flavors and botanicals in gin.

The next decade brought a brunch drink with decidedly less firepower. The Buck's Fizz (orange juice, sparkling wine and a touch of grenadine) was born in London's Buck's Club, the model for Wodehouse's Drones Club, in 1921. It soon morphed into the mimosa (with no grenadine nor Grand Marnier replacing it) at the Ritz in Paris. While Champagne is traditional, Haasarud likes an Italian Prosecco or a Spanish cava for their light and dry qualities, with a little fruitiness to match the juice.

In 1936, Hemingway claimed he invented Death in the Afternoon, an absinthe-based drink that turns milky with the addition of Champagne, while on a sailing misadventure, not while watching bullfighting. With a full shot of absinthe, perhaps it doesn't matter what bubbly you use.

By 1948, Giuseppe Cipriani, of Harry's Bar in Venice, had given us the Bellini, invented as white peach puree mixed with Prosecco, but which might take a sparkling Moscato if you want something sweeter, says Haasarud. She also points out that all manner of Bellini variations are possible using fresh fruit purees. "Pear, pineapple, raspberry, grape, pomegranate—you can literally go through your juice bar." When it comes to the red fruit and berry flavors, she says, sparkling rosés are your best bet.

While fruits are the no-brainers of pairings, the go-figure sparkling wine cocktail—Black Velvet—is actually one of the oldest-known and my favorite. It was invented in London in 1861 upon the death of Albert, the prince consort. Supposedly, the bartender at Brooks's Club blended stout with Champagne to symbolize a mourner's black armband, but it seems more likely to have been to disguise the unseemly glugging of festive Champagne at such a solemn time. However the creation went down, the drink makes a fascinating contrast of earthy and fruity. The wine softens the bitter beer, making it toasty and savory, while showing off its own lemon notes and losing any trace of the saccharine.

Jack Bettridge is senior features editor of Cigar Aficionado.


One part stout
One part sparkling wine

Fill a flute or a beer glass with wine and stout. Stir gently.

Note: The ultimate presentation gets either component to float on top of the other. Pour in one ingredient first and let it settle for a minute or so. Then dribble in the other by pouring very slowly over the back of a spoon.

This takes patience, but we achieved it in the photo above with Prosecco over Guinness. (Prosecco brings an apple flavor and lets the stout step forward more than Champagne does.)

The pros can even invert this, a hard-to-achieve and ephemeral effect. Anyway, the magic happens when they mix.


No comments:

Post a Comment