No one likes to meddle with an expensive vintage, but with the price of champagne at an all-time low, now's the time -- and season -- to experiment. Forget the revolting Kir Royale (unless you know how to make your own cr'me de cassis) and reserve Bellinis and mimosas for brunch. A champagne cocktail made correctly is strictly a nighttime affair. I had my first, quickly followed by my second and third, many years ago at the George Hotel in Edinburgh, a place that had seen better days but still made its drinks like it was living them. The recipe was disarmingly simple: A sugar cube at the bottom of a champagne flute is peppered with Angostura bitters (three or four drops) and topped with cold, dry champagne. The better versions require a half ounce of cognac, which adds a pleasing hint of caramel. British cocktail whiz Douglas Ankrah goes American by subbing in bourbon for cognac, with orange slices marinated in Licor 43. And at Clover Club in Brooklyn, Julie Reiner has introduced the Bill Boothby cocktail, a champagne version of the Manhattan that uses rye, sweet vermouth, orange and Angostura bitters, and Gruet, a sparkling wine from New Mexico that sells for around $14 a bottle. It needs a vigorous stir before it's topped with the bubbles, but it's a very grown-up drink, not to say a forgotten classic: Boothby created it in 1910 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. With a plate of Clover Club's shrimp rolls, a recession stand-in for lobster, it's hard to think of anything better to jazz up a long winter's night.
Bubble Yum: Three champagne cocktail recipes:
The Bill Boothby Cocktail
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 ounce brut champagne or
maraschino cherry for garnish
Place the bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass. Fill two-thirds with ice, stir vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Pour champagne on top to fill.
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
4 or 5 ounces brut champagne
Mix gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a glass half filled with ice. Shake for at least 30 seconds, strain into a champagne flute, and top with champagne. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.
Champagne Cocktail a la Douglas Ankrah
1 small orange, peeled and segmented
1/2 ounce Licor 43
4 drops orange bitters
2 sugar cubes
1 ounce bourbon
champagne to top
Marinate orange segments in Licor 43 for an hour. Place two drops of bitters on each sugar cube, putting one in each glass, and divide bourbon between the two. Fill the glasses with champagne before adding an orange slice to each.