The World's Greatest Champagne Cocktail

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this week is unofficially-officially Leftover Champagne Week at the blog. Is this a case of bad timing on my behalf? Surely some of you poured your New Year's Eve backwash down the drain days ago. But what about youse guys who overstocked for your year-end blowout, and now must stare down the doldrums of January while half a case of perfectly good bubbly makes eyes at you from the top of your fridge? This week's for you.

And I really shouldn't endeavor any sort of Champagne Week without a proper, i.e. World's Greatest, Champagne Cocktail. I'm talking about the classic here, the one you could technically argue ain't even a cocktail because the only booze in it is bubbly. A single alcoholic ingredient, not even a liquor one at that: That's two strikes in mine and many other books.

But we give this guy a pass because champagne cocktails -- nay, the Champagne Cocktail is just so delightful and lovely and fun. There's something so whimsical (in a good way; my husband hates that word) about fashioning a drink with honest-to-goodness sugar cubes. Oh, the presentation effect! The precious look of them doused in bitters! It's enough to make me want to go hand-write a letter with an inkwell-dipped quill, which I will then seal using the family crest. (Do you think they drank champagne cocktails in Downton Abbey?)

The World's Greatest Champagne Cocktail

Champagne -- a flute's worth of it, the best kind you've got

2 cubes of sugar

About 5 dashes Angostura Bitters

Plop the sugar cubes into a champagne flute. Douse with the bitters. Fill with preferably-uppercase-C Champagne.

Tasting Notes

As I try to make the case for in every "World's Greatest" cocktails, the better the base, the better the drink. Certainly the bitters and sugar cube here will bring out the best in highbrow bubbly -- but the other great thing about the champagne cocktail is that it can turn your ordinary, $9.97 bottle of sparking wine into a delicious drink just as well.

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The Rinfrescante Italiano

I want to say two words to you. Just two words. Are you listening?

Aperitifs, digestifs.

There's a great future in aperitifs and digestifs. I don't just mean that in a Benjamin-Braddock-searching-for-meaning-in-the-60s-oh-I-get-it-she's-referencing-The Graduate kind of way. Italian liqueurs are mega-trendy big right now and I say good on it, because they're relatively cheap (~$20 a bottle, less for vermouths), a little goes a long way, they're becoming easily available, they have the best ad posters, they were born to make nice in endless kinds of cocktail recipes, and once you start you'll want to collect them and play with them and come up with neat at-home displays for them like you used to do with your Smurfs.

The Rinfrescante Italiano is the first cocktail we've come up with in house to make use of our new-favorite toy/aperitif, Aperol, which is like a lighter-bodied version of Campari. Like yesterday's Champagne Julep, it's a fizzer. With the Aperol's bittersweetness and the bubbly's carbonation mixed together, Sean's cousin Chris said it tasted like an Italian soda, hence its given nomenclature, "the refreshing Italian."

(Speaking of Chris' toys, I must interrupt myself here to explain what you're seeing in the pic above, a gift he received for Christmas. It is basically a six-sided jigger, with each side recessed to a certain degree, such that each in effect works like a pyramid-shaped liquid measuring cup. It appears from the online homework I've done that Chris' comes from Vat19.com. It blew me away at  first look but disappointed me at first try, mainly because it is very awkward to pour. You know how sometimes have to pour something from a cup into another container and if you don't pour at just the right speed the liquid winds up cascading down the side of your cup and not into its intended receptacle? That's what happened here, unless I poured from the jigger while holding it with two hands, in effect making me feel like a toddler trying to pour her own milk for the first time. Yes, the cube jigger has corners that kinda look like they should work like spouts, 'cept they kinda don't. I'd much rather have me a single, classically designed jigger with several easily visible notches inside.)

Oh! And, back to the Rinfrescante, it has applejack, aka Jersey Lightning, which was my street name in high school is like a super-strong, apple-based brandy. Chris and his cohorts had some lying around, and that's another liquor you're going to hear a lot about in the coming year, and another one I'd been dying to try for a while, 'cept that in Fronche Canada you have to settle for (equally awesome) Calvados.

The Rinfrescante Italiano

1 ounce Laird's applejack brandy

1/2 ounce Aperol

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

Lemon twist, to garnish

Pour applejack, Aperol and lemon juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top off with Champagne. Garnish with lemon twist.

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The Champagne Julep

I haven't told you yet how I spent my New Year's Eve, have I? Silly me. You're likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics' Feast Day. (It's in the Bible, look it up.)

Our evening began early-ish, in the five o'clock hour (it's not just a blog, it's a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we'd picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny's worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.

The recipe for this Champagne Julep came out of a cocktail book -- one of the several belonging to Sean's cousins, with whom we crashed over the holidays; it's a whole family of drinkers (what can I say, I know how to pick first husbands) -- but I wish that weren't the case. Because if ever there were a person put on Earth for the purpose of whimsy-ing up a recipe like this off the top of her dainty, demented head, it is me. Dammit, the Champagne Julep should dance nightly in my dreams. "Champagne Julep concocter" is what my tombstone should one day read, except with one word misspelled and no money left in my estate to fix it. Has the past year and change instilled not one inkling in me towards total julep brilliance?

Credit, though: It's a damn good recipe. Simple to the point of self-evident, as any worthwhile julep recipe oughta be. The resulting drink likewise reads organically on the palate. Picture in your mind what a fizzy mint julep might taste like, and so it does. Tastes fun, no?

The Champagne Julep

(From The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks: More Than 1000 Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Cocktails, by Anthony Dias Blue, with some adjustments and finesses)

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

4 large mint leaves

1/2 to 1 teaspoon simple syrup (to taste)

Crushed ice

Bunch the mint leaves between thumb and forefinger and give one good tear through the middle of the leaves. Drop into bottom of a tall Collins glass and pour in simple syrup on top, just enough to cover leaves. Muddle well. Add ice roughly to fill glass. Pour in bourbon. Stir very briefly. If necessary/desired, put in more ice at this step to refill to top. Top off with Champagne. Once again, stir briefly. Taste and top off with more simple syrup if desired. Garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, use the best bubbly you can afford. Also, if you're going to go with a wheated (i.e. sweeter) bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark, I'd recommend yin-yanging with a dry champagne. On the flip side, I bet this would taste great with a rye whiskey and a sweet sparkler.

I go into more detail about my little physical tricks I use to properly mix a julep in my World's Greatest Mint Julep post, if you care to read it. Basically, although here I suggest stirring briefly to agitate the drink, my most preferred method of mixing a julep is to make little downward stabbing motions in the glass with a swizzle stick.

I also advocate taking your mint sprig by the stem in one hand and giving it a few smacks against the open palm of your other hand. You'll see this done at high-end cocktail places a lot; it's great for releasing the leaves' aroma.

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The World's Greatest Sgroppino, 1st Ed.

Folks, O patient folks, cherished blog-reading folks: Mea culpa runneth over.

I am sorry I have not posted in so long. I was busy moving out of the country, then resettling in my new one. The PhoBlograpHusband will be starting his Ph.D. in musicology at McGill University this week (location: sunny Montreal, Canada), which I suppose means that in a few years his proper title will be Ph.D.oBlograPh.D.usband.

Tragically, this life upheaval included a metaphorical man-overboarding of our booze supply, in the literal form of a "Drink Us Out of House and Homeland" farewell party we held for our NYC friends at the end of July. Like most immigration policies, Canada's rules and regs on bringing  booze into the country change with every website you consult and infoline you call, but best we could tell, the first bottle per person is on the house; after that, all subsequent bouteilles are taxed at 100 percent their retail cost. Merde!

We've been slowly replenishing the home supply since then, a process which may or may not have included questionable bootlegging from the States but which has definitely involved making painstaking purchasing decisions at various SAQ stores around town. SAQ stands for Societe des alcools du Quebec, and given the moniker, you'd think it'd be like the Roaring 20s or Parisian cafe society all over again up in this province. A society of alcohol?! Wheeeeee!!!

Alas, the SAQ is a finicky little fusspot, a good-times gestapo that jacks up prices and prizes Jack, seemingly; you're rilly lucky to find a Knob Creek, you're not ever going to find a rye whiskey and I'll just stop typing now before the tears start flowing.

Moving on, then! Beer and wine carry the day here, but we have found a few cocktail bars that rival my stateside faves, about which I'll be blogging in the near future. Meanwhile, the fact that grape-based products are so easy to come by in Montreal was just one factor that prompted me to fashion a bubbly-based cocktail I'm kinda crazy about, the Sgroppino.

The Sgroppino is an Italian concoction that, at its core, is comprised of Prosecco and lemon sorbet. From there, some recipes call for vodka, some for grappa. I've also seen variations that made use of mint leaves, grapefruit flavoring (in the sorbet, if not the liquid ingredients), and either I saw one that also had bitters or I just think bitters would be a no-brainer to include. (Today I even flipped past a recipe that called for heavy cream. Erm, blargh?) With so many variables at play, I've decided to dub the recipe below only a rough (very rough, still delish) draft, or first edition, of the World's Greatest Sgroppino. I'll have a World's Greatest Sgroppino, Final Answer for you soon.

The World's Greatest Sgroppino, 1st Ed.

About 4-5 ounces Prosecco

1 small scoop lemon sorbet

Put the lime in the coconut lemon sorbet in a champagne flute. Top with Prosecco.

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The Crack Baby

ZOMG guysies, I am still funking SmAsHed! from Wills' bachelor party last night. Srsly, it was off da royal chizzy!!! Total bach-analia, yo!

OK, so, of course it started out totes norms and civil and whatnot, 'cuz good, ol' Droopy-Faced McPrincenstein was trying to prove he could still hang with the boyz and all, and I think he was getting a little wack on the stripper talking about how he wanted to be her tampon and stuff.

But finally he split, so then we were all like, "Yo, bust out dem Crack Babies!" I mean, ain't no way we  throwin' a stag party for  my dawg Wills and not do major shottage of Crack Babies. They're his fave choice for getting royally f'ed up!

So Wills was just pounding them, man, like there was no friggin' tomorrow -- I mean, to the point where I was like, um, maybe he actually doesn't want there to be a tomorrow... but dat's wack, 'cuz he totes luvs his boo! Katiekins is da bomb, yo!

And she loves her Crack Babies too! 'Cuz like, after a while, Wills was rilly getting messed up, and we actually started to get a little worried about him, and Harry was like, "ghkesl kdfhl she'tdtlk kwon to dlsadodk," which I think was him trying to say that we should buzz Kate 'cuz she totally knows how to handle Wills when he's plastered.

Kate was all like, "Yo, my bitches and I 'bout to get our swerve on at da club, we gonna come git'choo!" And then next thing we know, Kate and her royal biznatch is pulling up in a stretch and we rollin'!

So we get to the club and zomg you'll never believe who was there.

Friggin' Charlie Sheen, man! Friggin' Adonis! He is the coolest, man -- YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW! And at  first he's all like, "Wills winning!" but then he's all, "I'm gonna steal your wife, dog."

Dat's when I passed out.

The Crack Baby

An ounce of vodka

An ounce of champagne

An ounce of passionfruit juice

A splash of Chambord

Pour all four into the same shot glass. Drink. (For those with a bit more decorum, pour all four into an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously but briefly (say, 5 seconds), and strain into shot glass.)

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