Champagne!

March 22, 2012

I haven’t had champagne in ages, so when we opened a bottle before dinner last Sunday, I just had to try it with a bunch of cocktails.

Oh, it wasn’t really champagne. It was cheap South African bubbly! It was sweet, too, not the dry stuff that is the most popular.

But for the price (250NT) it was well worth it (Pearly Bay Sparkling Wine).

Most of these cocktails should really be made with brut champagne or something similarly dry, but I thought they were worth giving a try, and wasn’t at all disappointed.

First I tried a glass by itself: sweet but not too much. Very bubbly. Quite delicious.

Next up was the Alfonso (which I seem to have forgotten to take a photo for).

Alfonso

3/4 oz Dubonnet

1 dash Angostura Bitters

1 lump sugar

sparkling wine

Add the Dubonnet and bitters to a champagne flute. Drop in the lump of sugar followed by a large ice-cube. Top up with bubbly and stir lightly.

I filled the glass with ice, rather than just one cube, and it didn’t seem to hurt. I followed usual procedures and added the bitters to the sugar cube before the liquid ingredients. I think this is a mistake. The idea with this sort of champagne cocktail is that the sugar isn’t meant to add too much sweetness, but as it slowly dissolves, it will add bubbles in a pretty cool effect. Problem is, it dissolves too slowly, and the drink needs the bitters that are locked up in it. So if making again, I’d add the bitters to the Dubonnet and then drop in the sugar.

This was pretty good. I mentioned in my last post how I liked the Dubonnet, and it mixed well with the bubbly. Sweet, yes, but the bitterness of the Dubonnet and Angostura balanced it well. Decidedly tasty.

Next I went with two drinks from an excellent column Jason Wilson wrote for the Washington post, called The 3/4/5 Bottle Bars – a column packed with ideas of what cocktails to make with just 3, 4 or 5 inexpensive bottles. The first, the Seelbach, is usually made with Brut champagne, but Wilson suggests inexpensive prosecco or cava (which sadly are in-inexpensive in Taipei), for both these drinks, and actually, the Pearly Bay worked fine.

The Seelbach is interesting in that it was a pre-prohibition cocktail, never particularly popular, whose recipe was lost, found again, and made popular in recent years. It was invented around 1911 (first published 1917) at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was lost during prohibition, and rediscovered by the hotel in 1995, and printed for the public in 1997.

The drink’s most noteworthy quality is the inclusion of a staggering 14 dashes of two different kinds of bitters! Yet somehow, it works.

The Seelbach Cocktail

1 oz Bourbon

1/2 oz Cointreau

7 dashes Angostura Bitters

7 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

sparkling wine

orange spiral

Build in a champagne flute and garnish with orange spiral twist.

I made this drink all wrong. (I was doing things a little haphazardly, making cocktails from scrawled down notes during a long boozy dinner. Mistakes were made). As you can see in the photo above, I stirred and strained into a cocktail glass before topping up with champagne. No matter. It was a delicious drink anyway.

The Airmail Cocktail is a drink of uncertain origins, dating from about the 1940s. Various recipes vary the quantities and other details somewhat, but most specify Prosecco for the bubbly. The rum should be an ‘Anejo’ dark, aged rum. There’s various recipes for the honey syrup, but I see nothing wrong with just mixing up equal parts honey and water on the spot. This recipe, from Jason Wilson, has smaller measures than most others. I presume that is so that it will fit in a classic 3 1/2 oz coupe (cocktail) glass. Seems only right to me.

Airmail

1 oz Anejo Rum

1/2 oz lime juice

1/2 oz honey syrup

1 oz sparkling wine

Shake rum, juice and syrup well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top up with champagne and garnish with a lime wheel.

Some recipes say to drop a couple of drops of bitters on top and drag a mint leaf through them (creating a pattern) for a garnish. This seems like a nice idea.

I used my old Ron Botran 12-year for the rum. I might have had a little too much honey. I’d go easy on that, and I’m, sure that different kinds of honey would make a big difference. I’m imagining how nice a rich manuka honey might taste.

The Airmail was absolutely delicious. My wife and I both agreed that it was the best cocktail of the night. It really accented the silky smooth qualities of an aged rum. A beautiful sweet nectar.

Next we had a Mimosa, a drink that is far from obscure, but which I don’t remember ever having.

The Mimosa was invented at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1925, but likely pinched from the Buck’s Fizz (different rations and a dash of grenadine) invented at the Buck’s Club, London in 1921.

Again, it’s supposed to be made with Brut Champagne. Turns out there’s a reason that this one is done to death.

Mimosa

orange juice

champagne

Fill half a glass with OJ and top up with bubbly.

It’s that simple. Variations include 2:1 Champagne to OJ or vice versa, adding a dash of grenadine for a Buck’s Fizz, adding about 1/2 oz of Grand Marnier for a Grand Mimosa, and adding a dash of orange bitters to add a little complexity.

I added none of the extras, and loved the simplicity. Your OJ is meant to be well chilled, but I just used juice freshly squeezed from oranges from the fridge. It was great juice, and this was a superb drink. I was quite surprised at how good this was. For its simplicity, I can think of no better way to knock back the bubbly.

Finally, I finished off with something I knew my wife would like, as she loves a bit of cherry brandy (which is not really brandy in the same way that, say, apple brandy is, but traditionally apricot, peach and cherry liqueurs have been called ‘brandies’). This was just a case of swapping the soda from a cherry fizz with bubbly, which gives it the ‘royale’ title.

Cherry Fizz Royale

2 oz cherry brandy

1 oz lemon juice

sparkling wine

Shake cherry brandy and lemon juice. Pour into a champagne flute filled with ice, and top up with the effervescent stuff. Garnish with a lemon twist.

A lot of people think cherry brandies and the like too sweet, but if you keep these thinks nice and ice cold, they taste great, I think. The cold tones down any cloying sticky sweetness. So fill up the shaker with a whole lot of ice – small pieces or even cracked or roughly crushed. I actually like the Marie Brizzard Cherry Brandy (MB makes good stuff), and this was a pretty nice drink. Unsurprisingly, my wife really liked it.

Conclusions

Don’t let the lack of fine French product put you off making those ‘champagne’ cocktails. I had a blast with a $US8 bottle of South African sweet sparkling wine.

It seems to me that sparkling wine has a real affinity for both bitters and citrus, particularly orange. I should try something with orange bitters, next time

My favourite drinks of the lot were the Airmail and the Mimosa, but the others were all good too. I’d love to try the Seelbach again, properly and with Brut. There’s some Carrefour branded Cava Brut for 550NT. Anyone tried it?

I forgot to try the plain old Champagne cocktail, and the French 75. I didn’t have ingredients for a Kir Royale, Bellini, Sbagliato and a few others I wanted to try, but I’ll do it next time. And there’ll definitely be a next time.

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