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

David Driscoll