No one appreciates champagne like they used to. The bubbly wine was created, accidentally, in England in the 16th century. The process was developed over the next two centuries, first to get the bubbles on a regular basis, then to create a bottle with the strength to contain the pressure of the carbon dioxide in the wine. Once the bottles stopped exploding, this treat became a favorite in the French courts. The French leaned to the sweeter sec and demi-sec varieties, while the English preferred the drier bruts. The wealthy were the only people that could afford it initially, turning it into a status symbol for extravagance and a rare treat for the working class. Champagne and all of its sparkling white wine compatriots have become much more common since the beginning of the 20th century, but the effervescence of the liquid and the pop of the cork kept the drink in celebratory circles.
New Year’s Eve is here, and champagne corks will be exploding for the evening. Most people will just enjoy the bubbles and the flavor out of either a toasting flute or a coupé. Experts and extreme lovers of champagne will drink it out of a white wine glass, which combines many qualities of the flute and coupé. This is a fine way to enjoy any sparkling wine, but it is not the only way. There are many cocktails over the years that have been developed with champagne as a co-star to other flavors being created. The cocktail, and your tastes, should dictate the type of champagne you choose to add. The list of champagne cocktails is a long, long one, so I have selected a handful that include spirits people usually have on hand or are easy to find.
BOURBON – Seelbach Cocktail
The Seelbach is named after the Louisville, Kentucky hotel it was created in. Most cocktails ask for a dash or two of bitters. This one calls for multiple dashes of two different bitters. They help balance out the sweetness of the champagne and the Cointreau (orange liqueur).
1 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. Orange liqueur (Cointreau is what the recipe suggests)
7 dashes Angostura bitters
7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Pour the orange liqueur, bourbon, and bitters into a mixing glass over ice. Stir, and then strain into a champagne flute. Fill with champagne and enjoy.
RUM – Sparkling Rum Punch (courtesy of My Recipes)
There are two great reasons to go with a punch when it comes to rum. First, from a traditional standpoint, rum is very common in classic punch drinks. Rum and brandy were very popular libations in the heyday of the punch in the late 18th century through the middle of the 19th century. Second, having a punch cocktail at a party allows guests to help themselves to something delicious as they arrive.
2 c. fresh, low pulp orange juice
.5 c. orange liqueur
.5 c. dark rum (Belle of Dayton has a 1775 Colonial Reserve that looks perfect)
2 750 mL bottles of chilled champagne
Blend the orange juice, orange liqueur, and rum into a medium bowl. Place in the refrigerator to chill and allow the flavors to marry for an hour. Before guests arrive, move the mixture into a larger bowl and add the champagne. Serve chilled.
GIN – French 75
The 75 mm field gun the French used at the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century was a massive anti-personnel weapon. It delivered a variety of ammunition to the enemies of France, from shrapnel filled explosive shells to canisters of toxic gas. When Harry’s New York Bar in Paris blended gin and champagne into one glass, many said the cocktail had the same kick as this powerful weapon. Like the versatile weapon this is named after, it can be made with gin or cognac.
.5 oz. lemon juice (about half a lemon)
.5 oz. simple syrup (1:1 mixture of sugar and water)
1.5 oz. gin
3 oz. champagne
Combine the lemon juice, simple syrup, and gin in a mixing glass over ice. Shake, and strain into a champagne flute. Add the champagne and enjoy!
TEQUILA – Lime Sparkler (courtesy of She Knows)
This is something like the marriage of Jesse James and Sandra Bullock: you are not sure how it happened or why it worked, but it did. For a while, at least. Fortunately, liquors stay together for a longer time. The tequila-lime-sweet combination is a classic, and the champagne adds an extra burst of flavor.
1 oz. blanco (silver) tequila
.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
.5 oz. agave nectar (you can use simple syrup, but the nectar adds some richness)
Combine the lime juice, agave nectar, and tequila in a mixing glass with ice. Shake, and strain into a champagne flute. Fill with champagne, and serve.
BEER – Black Velvet
When Prince Albert of England passed away in 1861, the country went into mourning. His wife, Queen Victoria, was inconsolable, and mourned the loss the rest of her life. At the time of his death, everything was draped in black. Clever bartenders at the time poured some Guinness into the champagne served at royal events, giving it the same black covering the rest of the décor had. It did not, however, make the people who drank it sad.
Stout (Guinness is the traditional selection, but any will do)
Fill the champagne flute half way with champagne. GENTLY float the stout on top of the champagne. If you pour too quickly, the champagne will foam up and over the edge of the glass.
VODKA – Sparkling Cosmopolitan (courtesy of Inspired Taste)
There is a wide variety of cocktails that incorporate vodka and champagne. Vodka is neutral enough to just add some kick to the cocktail and allow any other flavor, usually fruity, to shine through. This is another champagne concoction that modifies a base cocktail by adding some sparkle.
1.5 oz. vodka (Buckeye Vodka fans, this one’s for you!)
.5 oz. orange liqueur
.5 oz. cranberry juice
.5 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
Pour the vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice in a mixing glass. Shake well, and strain into a champagne flute. Fill with champagne, and serve.
Whether you are christening a boat or celebrating a major event, champagne’s traditional hold on the celebration market is far from over. There will always be a thrill when the cork pops out and the bubbles start to fly. Keep the cork flying to a minimum, though. Shooting someone’s eye out is not the best way to start the new year. For them or for you. Cheers!