December 29, 2009

Happy Hour: Champagne Cocktails

by Payman Bahmani

Champagne Cocktail

So you say it was a tough year, huh? Well, look at it this way: you’ve almost made it out of this Millenium’s first decade. And what a decade it’s been. I mean, this was the decade that the internet hit puberty and really came into its own; the decade that gave birth to Google—do you remember life before you could “Google it?” In short, the decade in which the future seemed to finally merge with the present. A disputed presidential election, the worst attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor, the election of an African-American president, and the near-collapse of our economy (forgive me if I left out a momentous occasion or few)—only the real estate market had more highs and lows. You name it, this decade had it. And regardless of your politics, there’s an untangled thread of certainty we can all hopefully agree on: it’s great to be alive at this very moment in time.

There’s no better occasion to celebrate that existential proposition than the celebration of the New Year. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with bubbly—be it Champagne (France), Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain), or good old American sparkling wine (try Gruet from New Mexico if you haven’t already). I mean, is there a better metaphor for hope rising above despair than thousands of tiny bubbles rushing up with such singular focus that you’d think there was a Black Friday sale awaiting at the surface?

Yet before you raise your glasses this year, I’d like to propose something you may not have tried before. This time around, in addition to the traditional pouring of Champagne rounds for the friends and family, why not dazzle them with a bit of mixological magic? You know, show them that you didn’t just mill around doing nothing during those months of unemployment—that you actually learned something useful.

The recipes below are all for classic cocktails that incorporate Champagne, and by classic I mean drinks that were created prior to Prohibition and enjoyed the limelight well into the Mad Men era—you know, when folks knew how to drink with style and purpose.

Serve up the ever-regal Champagne Cocktail for the light drinkers in your crew. For the folks who think summer’s a twelve month season, make them an Air Mail made of rum, lime juice, honey, and Champagne, which is basically a variation of the classic French 75. And for those who belong to the Fraternal Order of the Iron Liver, give them the Sea Captain’s Special, which is a cross between a Champagne Cocktail and an Old Fashioned.

Although the recipes below classically call for Champagne, this is really no time to nitpick, and any bubbly of your choice will suit just fine.

Champagne Cocktail (pictured at top)
Champagne
Sugar cube
2-3 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Lemon twist

Glass: Champagne flute

Drop a few dashes of bitters on a sugar cube and place the cube in a chilled flute. Fill with Champagne and twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink—the point is to spritz it with the citrus oil from the peel—and place in the drink. When cutting a lemon peel try to cut as little of the bitter white pith as possible.

Unlike the Sea Captain’s Special, the sugar’s purpose in the Champagne Cocktail isn’t so much to sweeten the deal but to provide a steady, pronounced stream of bubbles.

Air Mail

Air Mail (above)
2 oz gold rum
½ oz fresh lime juice
2 tsp honey
Champagne (approx 4-5 oz)

Glass: Highball, Collins, or other tall glass

Dissolve the honey with the rum and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Pour everything into the glass—ice and all—without straining, and fill to the top with Champagne.

To make a French 75, simply substitute gin for the rum, lemon juice for lime, and sugar or simple syrup instead of honey, all while keeping the proportions the same.

Sea Captain's Special

Sea Captain’s Special (above)
2 oz Rye whiskey (substitute Bourbon if you can’t get Rye)
Sugar cube (or about ½ tsp granulated sugar)
2-3 dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
1-2 dashes absinthe
Champagne
Orange twist

Glass: Old Fashioned

Place a sugar cube in the glass and drop a few dashes of bitters and a small splash of Champagne on it. With a muddler, spoon, small tree branch, or whatever you have available, crush the sugar cube and swirl the glass around to coat the sides with the sugar grains and bitters. Drop in a couple of large ice cubes (the bigger the pieces the better, as you want the slowest diluting ice as possible), pour in the whiskey, top with Champagne, and add a dash or two of absinthe on top. Cut a swath of orange peel in the same manner as the lemon above, squeeze it over the drink, and drop it in.

Not too difficult, right? With these drinks in your arsenal you should have no problem entertaining your guests and earning their praise.

Happy New Year folks, and bring on the next decade!

Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!

Paystyle was born in Tehran and grew up in Los Angeles (aka Tehrangeles) before moving to Brooklyn with his wife and co-pilot Vanessa Bahmani who provides the stunning photography of Pay’s concoctions. Return every Wednesday for his weekly Happy Hour column.

5 Comments

  • Technolustmaxx
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I had something similar at a godforsaken bar in London's West End, but it was significantly less sexy than the drinks pictured.

    Happy Silvester.

    trustyourtechnolust.blogspot.com

  • Vanessa Bahmani
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Beautiful! Your post made me want to toast for 2010 all over again. Happy New Year to Umami Mart & Lifesacocktail.com.

  • kayoko
    Posted January 10, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Awesome post, Pay. Sorry I fell off the wagon on this one, but this has been on my mind.

    Can't wait to try the Sea Captain's Special, as I've been obsessed with all things Manhattan9-y.

    Can I get absinthe anywhere?

    Quick word from the sommelier I work under: Champagne should only be sited as such if it is actually from the namesake region in France. Otherwise, it should always be referred to as "sparkling wine". Totally unsexy, I know, but there are lots of lawsuits involved otherwise, I hear.

    Gruet is definitely noteworthy, and extremely affordable. Try the pink sparkly version too!

    LIFES A COCKTAIL DOT COM!!! HOLLER!

    Happy New Year!!!

    xxxxk

  • Paystyle
    Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Kayoko-yes, you can buy absinthe at any liquor store that carries it. In fact since you're going to the St. George distillery you can pick up their absinthe, which is pretty good (and expensive).

    Regarding Champagne, I'm well aware of Champagne's designated appellation and referenced that in the piece, noting that Champagne can only come from France. Moreover, it can only come from the Champagne region of France, otherwise it must have a different designation.

    I use the word Champagne throughout the recipes because in fact I used actual Champagne in those recipes, which is what most of the classic recipes called for. Nowadays there's been such a proliferation of producers of sparkling wine (and good one's at that, like Gruet) from various regions around the world that you can adequately substitute them for Champagne when mixing in cocktails.

    Some would argue that differences of production method aside, the difference between Champagne and other sparkling wines is nominal. Others (myself included, and especially the French) say that besides production method, there is something to be said for differences produced as a result of terroir (French term used to denote the special characteristics that geography, climate, soil, etc bestows upon particular varieties of wine).

    I'm a firm believer that the inventor/creator of something gets to control its name, and the French, as the ones who discovered and perfected the Method Champenoise, get to control the nomenclature. It's also a smart marketing concept, which the Scottish (with Scotch) and Americans (with Bourbon) have also taken advantage of.

  • kayoko
    Posted January 13, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Payman Bahmani, ESQ. Fist pump.

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