Five of the best: Champagne Cocktails

July 9, 2020
Sub 13 Cocktail Bar

Welcome back to our series of articles highlighting the best cocktails using a particular ingredient or of a specific style. We thought we’d get things off to a sparkling start by showcasing five of our favourite Champagne cocktails.

Supposedly created accidentally, Champagne these days is synonymous with celebrations and luxury, but its early life was rather less glamorous. The cunning French growers who found their wines afflicted by the perceived fault of fizziness, shipped the offending bottles to the notoriously uncouth palates across the channel. We Brits soon developed a taste for the stuff, and once a certain French monk named Dom Pérignon (supposedly) perfected a way to control the process the rest is history!

Champagne cocktails are generally simple affairs created to showcase a fine bottle of bubbly, but you can be a bit more creative, so here are five to get you started.

Kir Royale

During the war, the French authorities in Dijon hit on the idea of combining two of their local products in an early example of a marketing campaign. Crème de Cassis was and is produced in abundance from the blackcurrants that grow prolifically in the area, whilst the very dry local white wines benefited from the addition of a little sweetness. The resulting creation, a Kir, was eventually upgraded to the sparkling version that has subsequently eclipsed it in popularity: the Kir Royale. You can make it with any decent French sparkling wine, and many purists would argue that a Crèment de Loire would be a more suitable choice - but why have cotton when you can have silk? We suggest Champagne!

12.5ml Crème de Cassis (we suggest Combier if you can get it)
Top with Champagne (we recommend Champagne Palmer Brut)

Pour the cassis into chilled Champagne flutes and then carefully add the Champagne. The action of pouring should be agitation enough to ensure the liqueur is mixed perfectly with the Champers.

A pair of Kir Royale cocktails
A pair of Kir Royale cocktails

French 75

Another drink with a war-time origin, this time from the Great War. It is named after the powerful 75mm artillery employed by the French forces, by virtue of it having a kick of equal force! By modern standards though, it is pretty tame, its “kick” coming from the addition of gin. Luckily the combination is wonderful and the French 75 remains one of the very best — and simplest —  Champagne cocktails.

25ml London Dry gin (we recommend Beefeater)
25ml fresh lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
Top with Champagne (again, we recommend Champagne Palmer Brut)

Shake the first three ingredients well, then strain (using a fine sieve strainer too if you have one) into a chilled flute. Add the Champagne and gently stir to unite the mixed ingredients with the bubbles. Strictly, this cocktail shouldn't be garnished but I don't think a small twist of lemon will do it any harm!

Classic Champagne Cocktail

To all those who subscribe to the quite sensible mantra of never mixing the grape and the grain, this might be a more suitable marriage of spirit and Champagne than the French 75. Using cognac and bitters, the Classic Champagne Cocktail is arguably a little less approachable than the previous two, but it is still a delicious and timeless combination. Cognac is, of course, distilled from wines grown in the Champagne region so it is only fitting that two should be united in cocktail form!

25ml cognac (at least VSOP, we suggest Pierre Ferrand)
1 white sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Top with Champagne (again, we recommend Champagne Palmer Brut)

Place the sugar cube on a napkin and saturate with the bitters. Use the napkin to mop off the excess and then drop into the bottom of a chilled flute. Pour the cognac on top, it should just cover the sugar cube. Now add the Champagne, you will need some patience at this stage because it has a tendency to get a little lively! Again, a garnish is not traditional but you can add an orange zest twist if you wish, indeed you could even swap the Angostura for orange bitters if you fancied something a little fruitier.

An Old Cuban
An Old Cuban

Old Cuban

Paradoxically, this is a much more modern creation than the previous three cocktails. Essentially it is a mojito that has been shaken, strained and then treated to a generous slug of Champagne. The result is fantastically complex, yet not so much that you cannot appreciate the Champagne, and after all that is what this is all about!

25ml Havana Club Especial rum
15ml fresh lime juice
10ml sugar syrup
8-10 mint leaves
Top with Champagne (you guessed it, we recommend Champagne Palmer Brut)

Smack the mint leaves to release their beautiful aromatic oils, then combine everything except the Champagne in a shaker and shake with cubed ice. Strain the mix, using a fine mesh strainer if possible, into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Add the Champagne and stir lightly. Select the perkiest looking mint leaf you can find, give it a slap too to wake up the aromas, and place atop the finished drink.

Two Spring Punch Champagne Cocktails
Check out the fresh-looking Spring Punch

Spring Punch

We have already mixed Champagne with gin and with cognac, so it’s only fair we chuck in a bit of vodka to stiffen the drink, in a cocktail known as a Spring Punch. Originally created by the legendary Dick Bradsell in the form or a Russian Spring Punch, we use the wonderful Swedish vodka Absolut, hence its full name in Sub 13: the Swedish Spring Punch.

25ml Absolut vodka
15ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syruoptop with Champagne Palmer Brut (not even bothering with the generic Champagne now)
a drizzle of Crème de Mûre (blackberry liqueur, again we recommend Combier if you can get it)

Add the first three ingredients to a hi-ball glass with ice cubes and briefly shake to mix, then top up with Champagne. Add a crown of crushed ice and drizzle the crème de mûre over the top. Finish with a blackberry and a slice of lemon zest.

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