Drink of the month: Champagne Cocktails
After having to curb the enthusiasm of one particularly over-eager punter who was keen to give away the not-very-well-kept secret, here (at last) is my post on the drink for December: Champagne Cocktails. They're light and bubbly enough for summer sipping; with the extra kick required to get one through the tedium of office parties and uninvited rellies; and nothing says "celebration" like champers.
First, some definitions. Strictly speaking (that is, according to the International Bartenders' Association), a traditional "Champagne Cocktail" starts with brandy and a bitters-soaked sugar cube, and is then topped up with Champagne. Although I'm normally a stickler for the proper geographic use of the Appellation "Champagne", I think that most of us are not in the financial position to insist that our mixed drinks include ingredients from anywhere near Reims, and besides, much of the subtlety will be wasted once the other ingredients are included. I'll also broaden the category for this month to include all cocktails made with sparkling wine, though I'm strict enough on the definition of "cocktail" to only go for those drinks that contain actual spirits. That rules out otherwise classic drinks such as the Mimosa and the Bellini, and even the Kir Royale, since Crème de Cassis is a liqueur rather than a spirit.
What does that leave us with, apart from the original Champagne Cocktail? The French 75 is a well-known, refreshing and surprisingly powerful drink, and you get extra pedant points for ordering a "Soixante Quinze". I've written before about the delights of Death in the Afternoon, though I would advise against drinking these on too warm an afternoon, lest the name become a prophecy. The legendary Joe Gilmore created all sorts of posh concoctions as tributes to the celebrities of the age, and many of those involved Champagne, though I'd think twice before drinking anything named after Princess Anne's horse.
That still leaves a vast universe of variations still to be invented: anything that involves a spirit and sparkling white wine would count. I used to swear by a mixture of Champagne and Cointreau, and the Ray Gun, while more of a novelty than a pleasant drink, is another way to put some zap into your Xmas party. Plenty of bars around town offer their own variations. Matterhorn tweaks the French 75 with the bizarre-sounding mixture of fig and cigar syrup, though along with a few of their sparking-wine cocktails, they spoil the effect a bit by serving it over ice in a highball glass. Boulôt always has some intriguing cocktails, and their Bellbird, which may have been a temporary special, offered a more alcoholic alternative to a Kir Royale. Alice has a page on their list dedicated to the genre, so that's one place that should definitely be on the itinerary. Where else should one seek out this holiday season?