Champagne Cocktails

K&L Champagne buyer Gary Westby is really enjoying the Uncorked Wine Blog as of late. Our work here on the Spirits Journal has inspired him to unleash his inner blog nerd. Every Friday is Champagne day on Uncorked and Gary has been wanting to do more research on Champagne cocktails for an in-depth article. Since our desks are right next to each other in the Redwood City office building, we have plenty of time to discuss the inner-workings of our jobs. Gary had a few sample bottles from K&L's exclusive, direct import Champagne selection next to his chair and he wanted me to use these wines for some cocktail exercise. Being the dedicated worker that I am, I sat down this weekend for some experimentation based on a list of classics from the pantheon of Champagne cocktails. Mr. Erik Ellestad also suggested two drinks for good measure.  Here's how they went:

Death in the Afternoon

If you want to be a real man's man, reading Ernest Hemingway's writing is a good tutorial. The masculine author supposedly invented this drink as it was posted in a book of cocktails from 1935 with his instructions to:

Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly

Using the fabulous, pinot noir-driven Elizabeth Goutorbe Champagne, one of Gary's best acquisitions for our K&L direct import Champagne program, I followed Hemingway's instructions precisely. You would think that a jigger of full proof absinthe would completely destroy the delicate flavors of the Champagne. Surprisingly, it does not.  The nuttiness from the wine marries well with the anise from the St. George absinthe.  It's not a drink I'm in a hurry to make again, but it might be fun for a group of testosterone-driven men to drink something other than beer or whisky while trading war stories.

French 75

I know this is one of Gary's favorite cocktails, as he has posted on the Uncorked blog before. He's got his own special recipe for a rather massive pre-meal goblet, but I thought I'd go with Dale Degroff's measurements for something different. Despite the French 75's storied history – invented in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris – I'd never really dabbled with this cocktail before. 

1 oz. Cognac

3/4 oz. simple syrup

1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake the first three ingredients well with ice and strain into a goblet with ice. Top with Champagne.

I loved this drink. My wife loved this drink. It's delicious. The Goutorbe marries perfectly with the richness from the Ferrand 1840, a Cognac at 45% made especially for mixing, and the sweet/sour balance of the lemon juice with simple syrup (again, I'm using Erik Adkins cold stir method rather than boiling, which really works well). I'll be buying Champagne in the future for this drink specifically.

Kir Royale

The classic Kir cocktail is made with creme de cassis and Aligote white wine from Burgundy. With Champagne instead of Aligote, it becomes a Kir Royale. I've heard that a 1/10 ratio of cassis to wine is the official recipe, but I decided to just dollop in a quarter ounce or so and filler up.

1/4 oz Creme de Cassis

Top with Champagne in a traditional flute.

Again, another classic drink that I just never think about making. I'd usually rather just drink Champagne straight, but the Chermette Cassis is outstanding and the cocktail itself is a beautiful color. For something out of the ordinary, I'd definitely make this again. Especially for parties. The richness of the liqueur and the acidity of the wine make a wonderful pair.

IBF Pick-Me-Up

I had never heard of this drink, but it appeared on a list that Erik sent me and he's previously tackled it here. I think I added a bit too much Champagne in the end, but I could see this being quite lovely if done by someone more professional (like Erik).

In a wineglass place one lump of Ice, 3 dashes of Fernet Branca (1 tsp. Fernet), 3 dashes of Curacao (1 tsp. Grand Marnier), one liqueur glass of Brandy (1 1/2 oz Cognac), fill remainder with Champagne. Stir and squeeze lemon peel on cocktail glass.

I need to try this one again.

I know many people who feel that Champagne is simply too precious to be wasted on cocktails. I used to feel the same way. However, the simple balance of the Kir Royale and lovely freshness of the French 75 have me thinking otherwise.  The strengths of a truly fine Champagne, like the Elizabeth Goutorbe, are only highlighted if mixed properly. Gary also wanted me to know that Champagne keeps perfectly well for a few days in the fridge with a stopper attached, so there's no need to feel like you have to finish the bottle once it's been opened.  Overall, this was a very enlightening experience and the genre is one I am excited to return to quite soon. 

-David Driscoll


Enjoy Your Weekend

We're calling it a day.

-David Driscoll


Following Up on the Lesson: The Army & Navy

Last night I followed up on one of Jennifer Colliau's "lost cocktail" recipes.  She dug into the old David Embury book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), pulled it from page 235 and tweaked Embury's own 8:2:1 ratio in place of the 2:1:1 listed.  I followed Jen's specifications:

The Army Navy Cocktail

- 2 oz. gin

- 1/2 oz. Small Hand Foods Orgeat

- 1/2 oz. lemon juice

Shake with ice and double-strain into a cocktail glass

This is basically a Gin Sour with Orgeat used as the simple syrup. I thought the Orgeat added a nice creamy texture, but I think I'm going to lighten up on the lemon juice next time around and add a bit more Orgeat to give the almond notes more life.

In any case, this is a simple, easy, deliciously dry aperitif cocktail to wet your whistle before a meal.

-David Driscoll


Whisky Season 2012: First Two Casks on the Shelf!

The pre-arrival orders have been processed, so I'm putting these two babies on the shelf!  Reviews so far have been very, very positive, both from customers who have tasted and our staff members.  The Laphroaig is freakin' fantastic, much better than I remember it tasting in Scotland.  David and I were at one point considering not taking it, but now I don't know what we could have been thinking.  Transfers to SF and LA will be done next week. Redwood City people can begin feasting now!

Kilchoman K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $109.99

1994 Laphroaig 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $139.99

The Laphroaig is going to fly once people start tasting it.  At 55% it drinks beautifully with no additional water needed, really. 

-David Driscoll


Sheep Dip Revival

A few years back we carried a 1990 Sheep Dip "Herbridean" Vatted Malt Whisky for about $75 that was part Old Fettercairn, part Dalmore, and part 25 year old Ardbeg.  It was delicious.  I didn't see much more from Alex Nicol and his crazy selection of vatted whiskies until yesterday, when he walked back into K&L and presented me with some familiar names and a couple of fresh faces.  He's got new importation, new distribution, and the prices are more competitive than ever.  I loved all four products and they're all coming into stock today.  We've got plenty of interesting, exciting, expensive whisky.  What about in the under $50 range?  Feast your eyes on these:

Pig's Nose 5 Year Old Blended Whisky $28.99 - Made with 40% single malt, the Pig's Nose drinks like a really tasty, value-priced single malt.  The proportion of grain whisky is almost unnoticeable next to the incredible balance of the Lowland, Speyside, and Islay single malts.  We hope to make this a unique, interesting alternative to the big brand blends we don't currently offer.  I'd choose this over many single malts, let alone inexpensive blended whiskies. Rich, sherry-aged flavors on the entry that last clear until the finish. Yes, please!

Sheep Dip Blended Malt Scotch $39.99 - Created by blending 16 single malt whiskies to create an outstanding blended malt whisky.  Surprising finesse and elegance give way to a majestic and complex pure malty flavor representing all distilling regions of Scotland.  There's all kinds of goodness going on inside this value-priced whisky.

1999 Sheep Dip Amaroso Oloroso Scotch Whisky $46.99 (1 bottle limit) - This didn’t arrive today as scheduled, but it should be arriving in the next week or so.  Keep your eyes peeled.

The mystery malt finally arrives! When the owners of Sheep Dip discovered that some unnamed, yet fully-certified Highland Scotch whisky distilled in 1999 had been sitting in the Oloroso sherry butts of a Spanish Bodega unclaimed, they immediately made an offer to take all of it.  Apparently, a Scottish producer had filled the casks with fresh white dog, but had never returned to collect on his investment.  The bodega owners weren't sure if anyone would even want the whisky at that point.  The sherry really took to this malt, penetrating so deep into the core of the spirit that it's almost unrecognizable as Scotch.  To me, this tastes more like sherry-aged rum, Ron Zacapa or Zaya, but not as overtly sweet.  The vanilla and burnt sugar aromas are supple and inviting, but never over the top.  Anyone who likes Balvenie Doublewood would love this.  One bottle limit per customer because there is a finite amount of this stuff and we can't get very much of it.

Edinburgh Gin $35.99 - Distilled in England on a 200 year old copper pot still called "Jenny," the Edinburgh Gin uses juniper, coriander, citrus peel, angelica and orris root to create a classic, yet decidedly lighter style of gin, perfect for martinis or more subdued, delicate cocktails. After distillation, it's sent back up to Scotland pine heather and milk thistle are then added in an additional maceration.  The result is a tasty dichotomy that harkens back to both old London and old Edinburgh styles of gin production.

-David Driscoll