The Champagne Martini

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I have seen recipes for champagne martinis that call for just vodka and sparkler. I have come across others (more than I would have guessed) that all swear by a spoonful of raspberry puree in the bottom of the glass, with some fizz and whatever else on top. And I have read that just bubbly and Cointreau is what constitutes a proper Champagne Martini -- if "proper" is even a descriptor we can properly use when discussing a cocktail that bears, at best, a second-cousin resemblance to a proper-proper martini-martini.

My new favorite acronym is MINO -- Martini in Name Only. It was, I will admit to you devout drinkers, a fact of life I had to swallow (straight, no chaser) when I agreed to author a cocktail book called The Big Book of Martinis for Moms. Clearly, not all 175+ recipes in the book are vodka- and or gin-based, for one thing. Believe you me, I did strive to make as many of the book's recipes fall in line with a classic martini's most hallowed guidelines. As it turns out, Mom does not live on vermouth alone.

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Anyway, I wasn't down with all of those other Champagne Martini variants referenced above. Just vodka and bubbly? Too stiff and fumey. With a spot of jam? I'm intrigued (and inclined to adopt a British-nanny affect), but sounds messy, so pish-posh, ol' chum, and fanks but no fanks! (Besides, I don't think moms need any more messes to clean up. For that matter, do any of us?) Cointreau and champagne? OK, but can't we do better than that?

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Here's better.

The Champagne Martini

3-4 ounces champagne

3/4 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur

2 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Combine Cointreau, Luxardo, and Fee Brothers Peach Bitters in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir briskly for about a minute with a bar spoon. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with champagne.

Tasting Notes

Obvs, you can use either capital-C Champagne (du France) or little-c champagne (sparkling white wine) for this recipe, just whatever you have on hand.

For that matter, you can forego big-C Cointreau and just use little-t triple sec if that's what you've got.

Lastly, speaking of drink-it-if-you've-got-it, I find this is a great recipe for leftovers. Like when you need something to do with that opened bottle of bubbly, and who doesn't always have way too much triple sec on hand? (I swear my bottle of triple sec predates Will & Grace.) Leftovers -- they're not just for moms!

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The Breakers 75

Remember how I spent New Year's Eve pouring various champagne cocktails, including The World's Greatest Champagne Cocktail, because God forbid I let a single drop (of nastily cheap bubbles, mind you) go to waste? Well, I almost let many, many drops go to waste, as I've just now realized that I never blogged the Breakers 75.

I'm going to admit, I don't entirely "get" this cocktail. For example, I don't entirely get its name. The "75" is referencing the French 75, no? But "Breakers," does that mean... waves? Is this a cocktail for surfers? Was it invented at some cheesy, "nice" restaurant in the  80s? (For some reason, when I picture the word "Breakers," that's what I picture: A Reagan/Miami Vice-era notion of good taste and fine dining, spelled out in cursive neon. Probably bread plates that look like seashells, that sort of crap.)

Given, then, that this sauce is not awesomesauce, I encourage you all to put on your cocktail thinking caps and consider this recipe the basis of something more special-er. For example, I highly recommend using the finest Champagne (capital-C if you can) you've got, and/or the best gin. Me no think gin and champagne go so nice-nice together otherwise.

And if you wind up going too crazy on the experimentin', there's little that can't be fixed with a dash of bitters and a hit of sugar. (That goes for life-in-general, too, yo.)

The Breakers 75

(Can I admit I'm not 100% sure where this recipe came from, because it was New Year's EveI was drunkI was really drunk we referenced so many cocktail books that night in our quest to bring you all the world has to offer? Although my guess is that it was this book.)

Champagne, about 3 to 4 ounces

1 ounce gin

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour gin and lemon juice into the bottom of a champagne flute. Top with your bubbles. Down the hatch.

Tasting Notes

In addition to using the best gin and capital-C Champagne you've got, I highly suggest shaking the lemon juice and gin together in an ice-filled shaker tin to get them nice and chilled before building your drink.

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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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