After the events that gave rise to last week’s post, “A Message from Beyond” (May 11th), I’ve had my mother on my mind a lot lately. So on Mother’s Day this past Sunday, Glen and I decided to toast her with one of her favorite drinks: the Champagne Cocktail.
In the shared memories, conversation and laughter that ensued (and a few tears, too), the picture-taking was largely neglected. But I can show you the open, three cocktails-short bottle of the champagne we used.
And a brand, spanking-new bottle of Angostura bitters without all the rust-colored drips down the side.
The Champagne Cocktail’s history goes back a long way—to at least the mid-1800s. I’ve no idea how my mother first learned of it, but I’d guess she first came across it in either a novel or in the movies. Characters in Casablanca and the Thin Man movies drank them. Since, in her heyday, my mother slipped on glamour as effortlessly as a pair of opera length kidskin gloves, it’s only natural that she adopted this glamourous cocktail as one of her favorites.
The classic version is made with only four ingredients and a garnish. Unlike her variant on the Sidecar (see the “The Eloise Sidecar,” posted September 22nd, 2016), the Champagne Cocktail my mother taught me to make is pretty much the same as it’s been for over 150 years:
THE CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL
In a chilled champagne glass (see Notes below), place:
1 sugar cube, followed by:
A dash of Angostura bitters over the sugar cube. Then pour:
1 to 1 ½ Tbs. of brandy over that.
Add a twist of orange peel (see Notes below) to the glass.
Fill the glass to about ¾ full with champagne (about 4 oz.).
- My mother always used a champagne coupe, that stemmed, saucer-shaped glass that you’d see Sean Connery drinking from in old James Bond movies. Nowadays people use flutes for champagne cocktails, but I wanted to pay homage to tradition on Mother’s Day.
- About the orange peel: no acrid pith, of course, peel only. But my favorite citrus peel to use for this cocktail is actually tangerine. A little sweeter, and very aromatic! Also, I like to add it to the glass before the champagne is poured in, not after. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the effervescing bubbles seem to release some oils from the peel.
- Wikipedia says to garnish the drink, not just with a twist of orange peel, but also with a maraschino cherry. Uh . . . no.
- I like Angostura bitters, and a “dash” pretty much saturates the sugar cube. If that’s a bit too much bitters for you, maybe use a drop instead of a dash. Or I guess you could leave it out entirely if you feel very strongly about it. Something that might be fun to try instead is orange bitters.
- The Mumm Napa Brut Prestige pictured above is a lovely champagne to either drink for its own sake, or to use in cocktails such as this one, when you want quality but don’t want to break the bank. It’s delicious and versatile. Having said that, though, you don’t have to use a brut champagne (historically the drink was made with sweeter champagnes), or even champagne at all. (To be precise, the Mumm Napa is technically not “champagne” either; it’s Californian rather than French. But it’s close enough for our purposes here.) Cava would work nicely, I’m sure.
- An inexpensive but very drinkable brandy to try is this one:
- By adjusting the quantities of bitters, brandy and champagne to your taste, the flavor profile is easy to tweak.
My mother loved champagne in its purest form: poured from a chilled bottle into a chilled glass. Preferably imbibed with loved ones while playing card games, charades, Trivial Pursuit, or just having terrific conversation. (A golden box of Godiva chocolates on the side didn’t hurt, either. Or, God help us, a “baloney” sandwich!) When she went to the trouble of making a cocktail, though, this one was one of her preferred choices.
Thanks for passing on another one of life’s delights, Mother! Here’s to you! *clink*
(Please excuse our hands. We’d been fishing all afternoon, so we were a little grubby. That’s okay, though. She loved to fish.)
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