A history of Champagne cocktails

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

There’s no better way to start the new year than by enjoying a glass of Champagne. And, not surprisingly, the tradition of beginning each year with a taste of the bubbly is an enduring one.

 

In fact, as early as 1855, written records praise Champagne cocktails, though they were probably enjoyed even earlier — considering the creativity of French bartenders.

Initially, Champagne cocktails were not served in elegant coupe or tulip glasses, but in hand-held tumblers over crushed ice. One of the earliest champagne cocktails was made using a simple sugar cube soaked with bitters, mixed with Cognac, and then topped up with a cold splash of Champagne.

Other early cocktails also matched Champagne with Cognac or a similar orange-scented spirit. The Black Velvet, supposedly created in 1861 to mark the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, mingled Champagne and Guinness beer. Even ice cream was added when bartenders created the surprising Soyer au Champagne.

By 1867 bartenders on both sides of the Atlantic were considering blending gin with Champagne. No less than the world-touring Charles Dickens recorded that he personally mixed gin, champagne and lemon, a cocktail he called “Tom gin and Champagne cups.”

The popularity of gin and Champagne continued to grow throughout the late 1800s. World War I (1914-1918) prompted the creation of the French 75 cocktail, made with Champagne and gin and named after France’s high-caliber, long-range cannon.

Even Prohibition during the 1920s didn’t stop Champagne’s ever-increasing popularity. Enter the mimosa. Initially created in Paris at the Hotel Ritz by Frank Meier, it soon became a worldwide favorite, blending champagne and fresh orange juice. It is believed to be named after a common European yellow flower known as, you guessed it, the mimosa.

The Great Depression (1929-1941) and World War II (1941-1945) limited the creation of new Champagne cocktails, but the prosperity of the 1950s saw a return of interest in them. One drink that arose from this era is the Atomic Cocktail, developed in Las Vegas and strong enough justify its nuclear namesake.

Meanwhile in France, the return of prosperity was celebrated with the Kir Royale, a close cousin of the original Kir, created by replacing the traditional Aligoté grape wine with fine French Champagne.

Today, Champagne cocktails are as popular as ever and available in a wide variety. There’s the Beijing Bellini, a modified version of Italy’s famed Bellini white peach and Champagne cocktail, made to honor the amazing 2008 Summer Olympic Summer Games in the Chinese capital. There’s an Old Cuban Champagne cocktail as well as a Champagne Martini.

In its endless forms, the Champagne cocktail continues to be a revered part of culinary tradition — a beverage that American Mark Twain enjoyed when he remarked, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

With that thought, here’s to you, Chefs! Enjoy 2019! May you enjoy only the best in the year to come!

 

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