Bubbles of Colour

4th April 2017


Time to open up the bubbly and let the spectrum in.

There are old stories of Champagne in rainbow colours. Not that any was ever so bottled, just served that way. How did they manage it? By putting a bit of coloured stuff in the glass of course. The tales date from the Naughties of the 20th century. So the legend may reflect the Art Nouveau decadence of those days. Those were also the years when the Brut style of Champagne was conquering all and not everything liked it. So adding a bit of something sweet – a coloured liqueur for example – made sense to some. Alternatively, it was just a promo by the Dutch liqueur maker Fokink (eventually bought by Bols), whose range included speciality Curacaos in all the colours of the spectrum.

Judging by the surviving examples I once tasted – at least 50 years old at the time and long opened – they all looked pretty enough but tasted of nothing you could put a name to. Least of all orange. Perhaps they never did, being merely ‘cocktail liqueurs’ – all about colour not taste. The genre as a whole survives only in the form of Blue Curacao, which never tastes of anything much either.

But then how should ‘blue’ taste? Or any other colour? The answer is: how we think they should taste. Because colour comes with subliminal baggage. We expect green to be minty, pink or red fruity, orange or yellow to be citrusy and if they’re not we get confused.

Meanwhile the fact is, despite the theoretical attractiveness of a sparkling glass topped with coloured mousse, if you look for coloured sparkling cocktail recipes you don’t find many. This is because they aren’t that easy to do. Even if you use the No-Brandy version of the Champagne Cocktail as the base, you are up against the problem that wine isn’t water-white but yellowish. So blues tend to become sea-green and so on.

In Britain the old bartenders got round it by using food dye. Especially blue – though few cocktails with ‘blue’ in their name actually are, including the one with the best name, the sparkling Blue Train Special.

In fact the most successful of the coloured Champagne cocktails was always the red Alfonso. Originally this was half and half Dubonnet and Champagne with an Angostura soused sugar cube. Today it is better made with Brandy to cover the cube, Peychaud bitters, and no more than 15 ml of Dubonnet – because it’s sweeter now than it was back in 1922, when the Alfonso was allegedly invented to honour the King of Spain. Incidentally, it’s no better for the use of pink Champagne, which in fact never works well when mixed.

And don’t forget, though the With-Brandy Champagne Cocktail is just better than the No-Bandy, you can often round the colour restrictions this causes by using Blanche Armagnac. So open the bar door and let the spectrum in!

30 ml Cherry Brandy
1 Teaspoon Golden Rum
30 ml Orange juice
1 Dash orange bitters (opt’l)
1 Ice cube in glass
80-90 ml Cava (to fill)
Garnish: orange wheel
Shake all ingredients except Cava, strain into flute glass. Add Cava, stir carefully.

15 ml Triple Sec
15 ml oz Cherry Brandy
1 Dash Angostura
80-90 ml Champagne to fill
Stir ingredients except Champagne. Pour into a small tumbler filled with ice. Add slices of orange and pineapple. Fill with Champagne, stir once.

1 Teaspoon Blanche Armagnac
1½ Teaspoons Blue Curacao
½ Teaspoon Triple Sec
½ Teaspoon Kirsch
Stir, pour into Champagne coup
80-90 ml Champagne or Cava to fill
Garnish: lemon twist

Bernard Barbuk

After a career as a business journalist, he wrote on drinks subjects for almost every extant drinks publication. He now divides his time between refining his database of 2,000-plus classic recipes & finishing a book on ‘the 18 Families of the classic cocktail’.