Champagne has a nearly universal appeal. Perhaps no other product enjoys such a sterling reputation for outstanding quality. It is also the one wine that may be appropriately served any time of day, with any meal and with just about any type of food.
It’s unlikely that when Dom Pierre Pérignon discovered the process of making champagne he had any idea his sparkling wine would spawn a fabulous array of sensational cocktails. Champagne-based drinks are synonymous with celebrations and special occasions. So exceptional are these cocktails that they have the capacity of turning any night into something genuinely memorable.
The new breed of champagne libations is among the latest trends sweeping the country. These cocktails are light, effervescent and exceptionally delicious. With the advent of the reusable bottle-stopper that keeps champagne carbonated overnight, you can pour champagne by the glass without being concerned that the unused portion will go flat and be wasted.
Champagne is deserving of its fame. The wine is skillfully produced, has impeccable quality and is able to wow the senses and satisfy the soul. Why has it attained such celebrity status? A number of singular and most significant factors are at the heart of the explanation and none of them involve luck.
The wine is made northeast of Paris in the region of France within the Department of Marne. Champagne is made from various grape varietals, including Chardonnay and two black grapes — Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The region’s climate and chalky soil are ideal for cultivating grapes. They are harvested by hand, pressed carefully so as not to crush the delicate skins and allowed to ferment naturally. Afterwards the vintner marries the wines together to create its individual blend, called a cuvée.
Champagne attains its famous spritz through a process called méthode champenoise. Before bottling, sugar and yeast are added, which initiates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The process raises the wine’s alcohol content and imbues the champagne with effervescence. Secondary fermentation takes about a month, after which the champagne is matured in cellars up to three years. The final stage involves the removal of sediment and the bottle being recorked.
Champagnes are principally produced in three versions. Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are made entirely from Chardonnay grapes. A Blanc de Noir Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and a Rosé Champagne is produced from any of these varietals with its alluring tint obtained from the juice being in contact with the grape skins.
Like all wines, the qualities, characteristics and personalities of Champagnes and sparkling wines differ greatly. It only stands to reason that choosing the most appropriate Champagne or sparkling wine for use in a particular cocktail is a significant success factor. The better the sparkler, the better the cocktail.
Avoiding the Big Bang — Care needs to be taken when uncorking a bottle of Champagne. The wine inside is under extreme pressure (90 pounds per square inch) and it can turn a cork into a dangerous projectile in an instant.
The following are some pointers on opening a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine:
The original recipe for the Champagne Cocktail can be found in Professor Jerry Thomas’ seminal work, The Bon Vivant’s Companion or How to Mix Drinks. Published in 1862, the guide cites the formula to be one-half teaspoon of sugar, one or two dashes of bitters and one piece of lemon peel. It further instructs that the ingredients were to be poured into a tumbler one-third full of broken ice, and fill balance with wine. Shake well and serve. Use one bottle of Champagne to every six large glasses.
For nearly a century and a half the cocktail has remained relatively unchanged. The contemporary version of the drink is made directly into a Champagne flute, tulip glass, or saucer. Typically a sugar cube is placed into the glass and saturated with one or two dashes of Angostura Bitters, after which cold Champagne is slowly added. Anticipate that the Champagne will create an immediate froth when it comes into contact with the sugar, thus the need to pour the wine slowly. The finishing touch is twisting a lemon rind such that its essential oils are expressed in the direction of the glass. The spiraled lemon twist is then dropped into the cocktail and served.
The venerable Champagne Cocktail was named one of the ten best drinks by Esquire Magazine in 1934. One famous variation on the drink originated at London Savoy Hotel in the 1920s. The Savoy Champagne Cocktail was made with an Angostura Bitters saturated sugar cube, equal parts of Grand Marnier and V.S. Cognac, filled with chilled Champagne and garnished with an orange twist.
In addition to the category’s namesake and founder, there are other classic and absolutely essential Champagne cocktails that must be sipped and savored to be fully appreciated.
Champagne is a bona fide treasure with no creative limits. It is the only sparkling wine that can be labeled as Champagne. It is not, however, the only variety of sparkling wine that can be used in the construction of this style of cocktail. What’s important to note is that when you change the flavor and character of the sparkling wine in a cocktail, the resulting cocktail is creatively altered as well.
American sparkling wines have steadily increased in renown and popularity. These wines are made from premium varietal grapes in a similar manner to Champagne. Also popular is Prosecco, a delicious sparkling wine made north of Venice in the Veneto region of Italy.
Like most commodities, sparkling wines come in many different grades of quality. It is especially important in this respect to hold inviolate the adage about always buying quality and you won’t be disappointed. These cocktails will only be as great as the character of the Champagne or sparkling wine used in its creation.
This is a style of drink in which brandies, light liquors — gin, vodka, rum and tequila — are the star players. Each can enhance the light and receptive sparkling wine to create more than the sum of the parts. Add the muddling of fresh products into these elegant cocktails as a winning strategy for introducing fresh flavors into these cocktails. There is a wide array of flavors and products that can be used, with bitters, fruit juice and purees being the often relied upon modifiers.
These beautiful, stylish drinks deserve to be sent out in public with an appropriate garnish. A traditional embellishment is adding sugar to the rim of the glass. Today there are numerous flavors and colors of cocktail sugars on the market. Fresh fruit is the most frequently relied upon embellishment for these effervescent cocktails. Lemon and orange twist spirals are both attractive and practical, as they add flavor of the fruits’ essential oils to the drink. Creative options abound.
The popularity of wine borders on phenomenal. It remains the most frequently requested drink for women in this country and second only behind beer for men. For some, the world of wine-based drinks is circumscribed by the Spritzer, Cooler and the Kir, the classic blend of white wine and crème de cassis. The realm of possibilities, however, is far greater than that and well worth exploring.
Both red and white wines are versatile bases for drink making. They each have a range of flavors that meld easily with scores of other ingredients and there are numerous, highly creative libations that rely on wine as a base.
When you turn up the thermostat and crank up the thirst, few libations are more satisfying than Sangria. It is essentially a punch, an extraordinary blend of wine, fresh fruit and an assortment of spirits and liqueurs. There isn’t one definitive version of the Sangria. It is a drink perfectly suited for individuality and an artisan’s touch. Often served in a pitcher, Sangria can also be made in single servings.
This light, thirst-quenching classic is typically made with a moderately priced red wine. The famed wines from the Rioja or Penedes regions of Spain are quite appropriate, as are California Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, wine choices are limited only by availability and personal preference.
The Sangria is a forgiving concoction, so you can’t go too far astray. The Sangria’s wine and fruit base makes a wonderfully hospitable environment for many different spirits, liqueurs and fortified wines. All-stars such as Cointreau, crème de cassis, peach schnapps, apricot liqueur, Chambord, fraise and numerous of their ilk are used in Sangrias. Along with the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Pisco, a Peruvian brandy.
Most seasonal fruits make excellent additions in Sangria. Especially suitable are the citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes. Their high acidity offsets the drink’s natural sweetness and keeps the other fruit in the drink from discoloring. Also popular are fragrant fruit and berries, such as peaches, nectarines, blackberries, strawberries and pitted cherries, as well as apples, pears, or grapes.
Muddle the fruit along with sugar or simple syrup before adding in the other ingredients. It is also highly advisable to let the Sangria steep so the flavor of the wine, fruit and spirits has time to become fully integrated. If you make Sangria in advance, add soft fruit, such as pears and strawberries, just before serving to prevent them from getting mushy.
Americans love beer. It’s the most frequently ordered beverage alcohol for men and second only to white wine for women. So it would stand to reason that by now we’ve plumbed the depths on how to best market beer to our clientele. We already pour it into tall frosty mugs, what else is there? The fact is there’s much more that can be done.
Blending different types of beers together has long been standard practice in pubs throughout Europe, Canada and Australia and it’s growing increasingly more become popular in the United States. Beer drinks are delicious, intriguing, and an innovative means of increasing sales.
Mixing beers is an artful skill that requires balancing the attributes of one brew with the characteristics of another. The key is using two beers with appreciably different properties—body, taste, texture, sweetness and bitterness.
An excellent example is the Black & Tan, a savory blend of stout and ale, typically Guinness and Bass draughts respectively. This venerable drink originated in England in 1919 and is named after the British constables who served in Ireland at the time. The Guinness Stout and Bass Ale have different densities, or specific gravities. The beers will layer one on top of the other—the nearly black Guinness floating atop the copper-colored Bass—thereby creating a dramatic appearance. Hoist the combination and the heavier beer will slide along the angle of the glass such that both brews are consumed simultaneously. Set the glass down and the layers remain intact. The effect is captivating.
The Half & Half is an equal mix of pilsener and bitter ale drafts. The light, dry lager smoothes the bitter edge of the ale, rendering the combination well suited to American tastes. Another classic concoction is the Black Velvet, created in 1861 at the Brook’s Club in London. It’s a superb tasting blend of Guinness draft and chilled Champagne. Substitute hard cider—brands such as Woodpecker, Strongbow or Dry Blackthorn—for the Champagne to create a Black Velveteen. Mix hard cider with the ale or lager of your choice to make a Snake Bite.
If refreshing is what you’re after, consider the Shandy Gaff, a mix of beer and ginger ale. Substitute lemon-lime soda to make a Lemon Top, or float a jigger of Rose’s Lime Juice to make a Lager and Lime.
Whereas an Englishman devised the classic Dog’s Nose, a sedate blend of dry gin and ale, an America lays claim to the Bloody Bastard, a spicy mix of Bass Ale, horseradish and Bloody Mary mix with a peeled shrimp garnish. It’s more of a meal with an attitude.
The Oyster Shooter is a fiery New Orleans specialty made with Tabasco sauce, horseradish, draft beer and a raw oyster served in a chilled rocks glass. Similar in design is the Beer Buster, which features vodka, Tabasco sauce and draft beer.
The Rock ‘n’ Bock features equal parts of Rolling Rock and Shiner Double Bock, a dark, full-bodied beer brewed in Shiner, Texas. Other beer specialties to consider are the Snakebite, an equal mix of Harp Lager and hard apple cider, the Bumble Bee (Guinness Stout and honey hefeweizen) and the Koala Bear, an equal mix of Guinness and Foster’s Lager.
Experiment and create your own unique combinations, or consult the following beer recipes for inspiration. Tapping into beer’s enormous popularity is a dynamic and lucrative way to escape the ordinary.
The Black & Tan is a classic drink. Not only does the combination Guinness and Bass taste great together, the drink’s layered presentation makes for a rather dramatic appearance.
Pouring a perfect Black & Tan is the mark of a professional barkeep. What you’ll need is a bit of practice mastering the technique. Pouring the beers directly into the glass will cause them to mix, thereby ruining the layering effect. Here then is the proper method of pouring a Black & Tan straight from the people at St. James Gate in Dublin.
Step 1: Fill a pint glass half full with Bass Ale
Step 2: Place the Guinness spoon over the rim of the glass
Step 3: Pour Guinness Draught full speed over the back of the spoon. Fill to the top just proud of
the rim of the glass
Step 4: Serve to your guest while the Guinness is still cascading.