Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Monthly Mixed Drink: Classic Champagne Cocktail

This is a new feature I am going to begin! I like to try new cocktails on the rare occasion I get to go to a restuarant or bar, but they are so expensive. I thought it would be a fun to try to make them at home. I decided to start with the Classic Champagne Cocktail because I read an interview once (can't remember where, sorry) with Dita Von Teese where she stated this was her favorite drink. It looks fancy, but is really quite easy to make.

Of course I couldn't find a photo of the beautiful Ms. Von Teese drinking champagne, but I have no doubt that she does. Via Tumblr.
Esquire calls this the King of Cocktails since it has a long history and has remained relatively unchanged. The champagne cocktail's origins date to the late 19th century and the first recipe citation was found in Jerry Thomas' "The Bar-Tenders Guide" (1862). Interestingly, SlashFood reports that the original recipe called for shaking the ingredients together, but this was later revised because shaking champagne is akin to shaking a soda...explosive. This video below gives a great history of Mr. Thomas' bartending book, cocktails, and the construction of champagne bottles. It also includes a tutorial of how to make this cocktail.  

Now, I had a few thoughts after reading this recipe. First, as the video above states, the addition of bitters is what makes a mixed drink a "cocktail," but what exactly are Angostura bitters? A lot of recipes call for this and I have it on hand, but I have never been sure what exactly it is. AND, my local liquor store carries several different kinds of bitters (Angostura, Suze, Peychaud). What is the difference? As the name suggests, bitters are herbal conconctions with a bittersweet flavor and they were originially used as medicine and are now used to flavor beverages or aid in digestion. Differently named bitters contain different herbal ingredients. Angostura bitters were developed by Dr. Johann Siegert in Angostura, Venezuela (now Cuidad Bolivar) as a remedy for sea sickness and nausea. There seems to be some confusion over whether angostura bitters used to be made from angostura bark or not and there is a WebMD listing for angostura and a nutritional supplement. It is now made from the gentian root and is a known herbal remedy for gas, heartburn, diarrhea, and vomiting. Story goes that it came to be used in cocktails when British troops began to mix it with their gin rations, resulting in the now famous Pink Gin cocktail, named so because the addition of the bitters turns the gin a light shade of pink, natch.

Have you ever tasted bitters by itself? Tastes like medicine.
Secondly, I was curious about the packaging for the bottle. Why is the label so ill-fitting? Box Vox reports that the labeling practice began in error in a Trinidad manufacturing facility where a batch of labels were printed the incorrect size, no one bothered fixing it, and it has been that way ever since. One story asserts that this packaging snafu was the result of a miscommunication between the two Siegert brothers who were running the family business at the time. In a rush for a show, one ordered the bottles and the other the labels and I am picturing the ensuing hilarity like something from an old, comedic silent film. (What? What? Doh! Cue plucky piano music) It sounds like pure mythology to me, but I could find no other explanation. This became the company's packaging trademark, which was particularly useful in setting the brand apart from competitors.

What the hell is going on here?
Next, what kind of champagne is best for this recipe? They range from sweet (spumante) to dry (brut) and I imagine which kind you choose can make quite a difference in how the resulting cocktail will taste. Initial investigations state that one should use a "good" champagne. What is considered "good" is highly subjective, but I am also no champagne connoisseur, so I will just purchase the cheap stuff. I fully realize that champagne is not such unless it was produced in the Champagne region of France, but for the purposes of this recipe we will use sparkling wine and call it "champagne." It is fancier that way! Further investigation reveals that one should use a brut (dry) "champagne" for this cocktail, which makes sense because we are adding sugar to it. The aforehyperlinked* Esquire article also quotes David Embury who lambasts this cocktail as sullying a fine champagne by adding sugar and, worse yet, bitters to it, so it is the ethical thing to do using a cheapo, un-fine one, right?  

The "champagne" we used. Note: There is no such thing as "California champagne."
 There are quite a few variations of this cocktail so I decided to use the method in the video above, which is the same as the recipe listed on Epicurious:
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Champagne
  • Twist of Lemon or Lime for Garnish
Soak the sugar cube in angostura bitters and drop in the bottom of a champagne flute. Top with champagne or sparkling wine. Enjoy!

This is how we did it. We don't have champagne glasses, so we just used regular wine glasses.
Verdict: It's okay. I would rather just drink the "champagne" without any accoutrement.

*Did you think I was a neologist when you read this word? Me too, but alas, this term has been used before and will likely become more common in our increasingly digital world. Le Sigh.

1 comment:

  1. Very educational. I am excited to read more of these.