Classic Champagne Cocktails with a Modern Twist

28th September 2017


Creating original sparkling cocktails, especially with Champagne, is notoriously difficult. That’s why there are so few of them, with the Classics a tiny group of museum-pieces: the Champagne Cocktail itself, mid 19th century; Buck’s Fizz, 1919; Alfonso, 1922; Bellini – arguably a rehash of the Buck’s anyway – 1945. There are two good reasons why it is so difficult and another to explain why mixologists haven’t tried very hard.

Especially where Champagne is used, the problem is people expect to taste it. Now that isn’t the case with ‘ordinary’ cocktails if they’re classic in form. Usually with a single spirit base. There, people expect a certain character from the Whisky, Gin or whatever, but not the naked taste. Champagne is different. No walk-on roles. It’s always the star.

Then there’s the fact that bubbly works like Vermouth in a mix, opening up and enlarging other tastes, including those better kept hidden. Which is why bubbly and Gin are not happy bedfellows or for that matter, bubbly and vastly expensive blends of Cognac: because deep within the spirit there will be over-aged elements that actually don’t taste very nice. Which the bubbly will unveil.

All of which means that any sparkling cocktail made with serious bubbly will be a throw-back to the original style of cocktail-making, which was essentially a measure of spirits, nuanced with one or two other ingredients. That’s what a Sour is, an Old Fashion is, even a Dry Martini and with bubbly there has always been a very limited choice of ‘other ingredients’ that will do a good nuancing job.

Here and rare
So: where Cognac is concerned, note that Petite Champagne works better than Grande, younger, simpler (cheaper) blends better than older and dearer. That Fine de Marne, the ‘Brandy of Champagne’, is too bland but, uniquely among spirits of its type, Marc de Champagne works brilliantly.

Sweet nuances? Ratafia de Champagne liqueur will keep the colour pale, the taste grapey. For a subtle, unidentifiable, difference make for yourself the Portuguese milk liqueur which now only survives commercially in versions from the Azores. These tend to include vanilla, which is all wrong. Recipes are on the Internet, but you’ll need Vodka, milk, sugar, lemon. Also make your own grenadine with pomegranate juice and simple syrup, your own ‘blue curacao’ with syrup, food dye, a touch of Vodka, and a squeeze of orange zest.

English versions of old recipes often include Absinthe. Use Chartreuse Elixier Vegetal instead. When chocolate or berry liqueurs are in the mix, Alsace black pepper eau de vie or with any sweetened combination, apricot Palinka edv from Hungary. It somehow replaces sweetness with ‘fruit’.

As for juice, aromatic, sweet-sour maracujar (passion fruit) is the one with real potential.

Shake with ice:
90 ml Fresh squeezed orange juice
20 ml Passion fruit juice
20 ml Orange Curacao
2 Drops Elixier Vegetal
Strain into chilled flute glass
Fill with Brut bubbly, stir
Garnish: orange wheel

Shake with ice:
20 ml Bourbon
20 ml French Vermouth
10 ml Italian Vermouth
10 ml Van der Hum Tangerine liqueur
Strain into chilled coupe glass
Fill with Brut or Extra Brut bubbly, stir
Garnish: long spiral of orange zest

Shake with ice:
15 ml Fraise des Bois wild strawberry liqueur
10 ml Marc de Champagne
1 Dash black pepper eau de vie
Strain into chilled flute glass
Fill with Brut Champagne, stir
Garnish: pineapple wedge spiked with strawberry

Rub three sides of a sugar cube against an orange until
coloured with the zest oil. Drop into chilled flute glass
Add chilled Ratafia de Champagne liqueur to cover
Add 1 teaspoon chilled black pepper edv
Fill with chilled Brut Champagne
Stir gently once
Garnish: orange wheel

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’.