When we think of classic cocktails, let us not ignore the entire category of Champagne-based concoctions. No visit to New Orleans is complete without a French 75 (simple syrup, gin, lemon, Champagne), preferably in the bar at Antoine’s before your lunch reservation. In the Florida Keys, you must have Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, mixing just enough absinthe into your bubbly to make you hallucinate a little. Bellinis (Champagne and peach liqueur), Aperol Spritzes (Champagne and Aperol), and even Kir Royales (Champagne and Crème de Cassis) all have one thing in common: bubbles transformed by a splash of something interesting.
But when it comes to changing a sparkling into a true aperitif, something that can prepare you for the night–or day–to come, the greatest remains the most simple: the Classic Champagne Cocktail.
The origins of the drink are murky, with some cocktail historians tracing mentions back to the mid-1800s. Esquire magazine put it in its Top Ten list for 1934. While there were always a few variations, the basics, surprisingly, have remained the same: a sugar-cube soaked in aromatic bitters with Champagne.
Some cocktail recipes call for a “measure” of cold Cognac and even crushed ice. One even calls for an entire bottle of Champagne. Lately, I’ve loved it for a cocktail hour treat when guests arrive. Before the appointed hour, simply line up Champagne flutes, drop a single sugar cube in the bottom of each, and douse with a few dashes of bitters. When the doorbell rings (or the buzzer buzzes), simply pour the Champagne.
A few notes for success: Chill your champagne flutes. (If you use Cognac, chill it also.) You can use coupes if you prefer, but frankly, I like how a flute concentrates the bubbles. Don’t crush the sugar cube or use loose sugar; the idea is that the sugar melts slowly, melding the cold bubbly and aromatics of the bitters. And lastly, while Angostura bitters are the classic choice, you can experiment with something more exotic. (I like the Creole Bitters from The Bitter Truth in my Champagne cocktail.)
You’ll be surprised at how delicious this can be and, in no time, you’ll be ready for a civilized world complete with Cole Porter playlist.
The Classic Champagne Cocktail
1 sugar cube
1 to 5 dashes bitters (Angostura or other), to taste
Lemon Peel for garnish
– Drop the sugar cube into the bottom of a tall Champagne flute.
– Once your sugar cube is seated, shake your bitters onto the sugar. The bitters bring a sweet spiciness to this bubbly party and you can adjust the amount you use to your own taste. Some recipes call for soaking the sugar cube in the bitters while others call for just a few drops.
– Top the glass with Champagne or the sparkling wine of your choice.
– Garnish with a long lemon twist.
For a fun variation, add ¼ oz Cognac. Garnish with an orange peel.