I’ve never made any bones about the fact that I’m a lazy bartender who, for reasons of taste and well as convenience, likes to keep my cocktails simple. Still, for this New Year’s weekend edition of DOTW I’m hitting a new high in simplicity and also using the official beverage of the coming holiday as our key ingredient. Make no mistake, however, as simple as it is, this week’s drink is an entirely legitimate and very classic cocktail. It’s also, in my opinion, delicious.
How classic? Well, a variation of it was featured in what appears to be the first cocktail guide published in 1862 and authored by bartender Jerry Thomas, who defined cocktails as containing spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. (This drink lacks only the additional water.)
I first became aware of this particular concoction, I imagine, the first time I saw Claude Rains order one for himself and one for a displeased Paul Henreid in “Casablanca.” I’ve been curious about it ever since, but I only bothered to look up what was in it this year. I only tried it, well, just a couple of nights ago but I immediately fell in love with it. Yes, some might call making a cocktail out of fine champagne gilding the lily, but who can afford fine champagne these days?
The Champagne Cocktail
Champagne or other Brut (dry) sparkling white wine
1 sugar cube
Lemon twist (optional garnish)
Soak a sugar cube in your bitters — Angostura is traditional but I had equally good luck using Fee Brothers Old Fashioned aromatic, which has a slightly gentler flavor — and then place it at the bottom of a champagne flute, if you’ve got one, or a regular wine glass if you don’t. Pour in your champagne, chilled of course. Do not attempt to mix the sugar cube with the champagne as the gradual decay of your sugar cube will actually be adding extra fizz and visual interest to your beverage along with a very, very slight dash of sweetness. If you want, rim the glass with your lemon twist and toss it in. Toast which ever year, old or new, you prefer.
Classic though it be, I gather from David Wondrich that the Champagne Cocktail has long had detractors who argue that good champagne should be left alone. They probably have a point if you’re drinking a $150.00 bottle of Dom Perignon. I however, was drinking a really not so bad $7.99 sparkling white from Spain — which I dare not call Champagne for fear of offending the French — and I greatly enjoyed the extra flavor, subtle though it be, and the additional fizz.
On that last point, Rachel Maddow informs us that making Champagne cocktails is the perfect way to revive somewhat flat, left-over bubbly. If that doesn’t justify the existence of this fine beverage, I don’t know what would, and it certainly makes it a fine way to keep your News Year’s festivities going for as long as you can manage.