Between the funny weather and the depressing presidential race, I’m finding my mood in serious need of a restorative cocktail or two. Unlike wine or straight hooch, a cocktail involves more than one ingredient, and so also at least a minimal amount of effort and concentration to make it correctly. This simple act of mixing a drink itself helps shift the mind, even if only temporarily, to lighter and more superficial topics.
Since Champagne seems to lift almost any spirit and enliven most social gatherings, champagne cocktails seem a worthy place to start. These are best served in a six-ounce Champagne flute, and all the liquid ingredients should be chilled before use. A great kosher champagne for this is the Drappier Carte d’Or, Brut.
First, the classic Champagne cocktail. Developed in the 19th century, it is enormously popular even now. Ingredients: 1 sugar cube; 1 lemon peel twist; Angostura bitters; Champagne (a decent dry sparkling wine, like a good Spanish Cava, will work just fine, too).
Recipe: drop the sugar cube in the bottom of the flute, saturate with a few dashes of Angostura bitters, allow to soak up for a few moments and then fill with the bubbly and garnish with the twist of lemon peel.
A wonderfully refreshing and light classic Champagne cocktail is the Mimosa. According to legend, this was invented at the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris sometime after the World War I. Traditionally, it is just 3 parts champagne to 2 parts chilled orange juice. If you add a ½ tablespoon of triple sec liqueur and reduce the orange juice to no more than two tablespoons, the results are a touch more intoxicating.
Or consider Death in the Afternoon, sometimes called the “Hemingway” or even the “Hemingway Champagne,” because it was invented by the novelist Ernest Hemingway. His instructions: “Pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”
A jigger is a shot, or 1.5 fluid ounces. Personally, I find this way too much anise flavor and simply overwhelms the champagne. Instead, mix not more than 1 tablespoon of absinthe or pastis with one teaspoon of water, and then add the bubbly.
Finally, no champagne cocktail list would be complete without a French 75. While this is traditionally served in a champagne flute, I find this is equally good in a large goblet over ice (though don’t take too long to drink as the dilution from the melting ice will throw the balance a bit).
The drink is said to have been created by famed barman Harry MacElhone in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris (later Harry’s New York Bar). The name harkens to its World War I origins, as the drink is said to have a kick akin to being shelled by the rapid firing 75-millimeter M1897 of the French field artillery. The British novelist Alec Waugh, older brother of the more famous Evelyn, said it was “the most powerful drink in the world.”
In cocktail shaker filled 3/4 full of cracked ice, combine 3 tablespoons (1 and 1/2 ounces) of gin, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) fresh lemon juice, and 1 healthy teaspoon of superfine sugar. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds or so, strain into a champagne flute (or the large ice-filled goblet), then top with Brut Champagne. A popular variation is to switch Cognac for the gin — also awfully nice, but very different. Either way, garnish with a twist of lemon peel and serve immediately. Repeat as necessary. L’chaim!