In the Shaker: Champagne cocktails

From a simple addition of sweet and fruit to the modern twists on today’s menus, champagne cocktails have come a long yet mostly traditional way. Drinks sleuths Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller look into the libations daring to play with the famed French fizz

Alexis Benoist Soyer, 1851

Glass: Champagne flute
Garnish: Orange slice and a cherry
Method: Build ingredients in the glass and fill with champagne.
2 bsp French vanilla ice cream
6 dashes maraschino liqueur
6 dashes orange curaçao
6 dashes brandy

Dom Pierre Pérignon may never really have said: ‘Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!’ but the excitement of drinks whose main ingredient is champagne have had that effect on sippers for a long time. Sparkling wines had existed since the 1400s in a number of formulations that were enjoyed by royalty. But it was the méthode champenoise that gave us the bubbly basis for more than a few 19th century classics.

At first, the enhancement of champagne’s effervescence merely implied adding an extra dosage of sugar and brandy to champagne. That’s what author Mark Twain requested in a Parisian café in his 1869 travelogue novel The Innocents Abroad.

The addition of a sprig of mint, a sugar lump and fruits of the season to a Champagne Julep, was documented in 1862 by Jerry ‘The Professor’ Thomas. Cobblers, punches and even cups made with champagne followed this
same prescription.

Harry MacElhone, 1919

Glass: Champagne flute
Garnish: Lemon twist
Method: Shake gin, lemon juice, and syrup over ice. Strain into a chilled flute. Slowly add the champagne.
10 parts champagne
4 parts London dry gin
1 part lemon juice
1 bsp gomme syrup

However, 11 years earlier, the Reform Club’s famed chef Alexis Benoist Soyer offered Queen Victoria a radically different approach to champagne sipping. His Soyer au Champagne added brandy to champagne as well as ice cream and dashes of maraschino and curaçao. A Parisian aficionado of all mixed drinks, humorist Alphonse Allais attributed his most famous character, Captain Cap, with the same love for Soyer au Champagne. But this was an extreme, one-off approach to champagne treatment.

Modern variations
Things stayed pretty status quo on the champagne cocktail front (sparkling plus a splash of a liqueur or brandy) until Harry MacElhone’s French 75 changed the playing field by mixing London dry gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup with the sparkly stuff. Appealing to Americans who clamoured for something fizzy and fun during Prohibition, the drink was popularised at New York’s most famous speakeasy, The Stork Club.

Yukie Aizawa, The Modern Honolulu, 2015

Glass: Champagne flute
Garnish: Rose petal
Method: Add all ingredients to the glass, finishing with the guava juice. Stir lightly as to muddle the mint at the base of the glass. Add ice and float champagne on top.
60ml guava juice; 30ml champagne; 25ml London dry gin; 10ml calvados; 5ml fresh lemon juice; 2-3 mint sprigs; 1 bsp rose jam; 1 drop rose water

Kir Royals came after World War II, again relying simply on enhancing the beauty of the champagne itself. But it isn’t until recent times that bartenders have challenged that traditional approach to working with champagne. In Hawaii, bartender Yukie Aikawa has given a tropical touch to her version of the French 75.

The possibilities are endless. Colour your bubbly ruby red with fresh pomegranate juice or strawberry purée. Wax literary with a tray of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Offer options to guests of a few liqueurs as enhancers: classic crème de cassis or curaçao, more daring white crème de cacao or hazelnut liqueur. It makes no difference how you dress up your favourite bubbly for your winter festivities – find inspiration and watch the sparkle appear in yours and your guest’s eyes. Then you’ll understand why Dom Pérignon rallied his colleagues to come and drink the stars.

Hot mulled sloe gin
The winter months find us at home more often than not. Our favourite sip by the fire is a mug of Hot Mulled Sloe Gin. Unlike mulled wine, this doesn’t leave the back of your throat filled with tannic solids. Sloe gin, however, makes an excellent toddy. To make two servings, combine 100ml water and 10ml cloudy apple juice in a saucepan on low heat. Add one cinnamon stick, two/three allspice berries, three/four cardamon pods, and a piece of fresh or candied ginger. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Add 100ml sloe gin and allow it to heat for a minute or two. Serve hot in a mug, teacup or Irish coffee glass. Garnish with a half orange slice and/or a cinnamon stick, or even a piece of candied ginger on the rim.


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