For a nation that’s been ordering whisky since its birth, we’ve sure found a taste for wine. We’re switching the squat glass for pretty goblets and flutes, learning to sniff, swirl and savour a whole new world of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines. And we’re toasting with the stuff too.
As with most cocktails, the better the quality of the spirit, the more you’ll enjoy your drink. But when the spirit in question is champagne – that sparkling, crisp liquid gold that’s already the best that money can buy – how do you make it even more special?
Simple, you bring in the best man for the job. Douglas Ankrah, drinks and beverage specialist (oh, he’s much more than a bartender) has earned his stripes by making cocktails cooler with London’s hip set. His first London bar, LAB, in Soho, launched the careers of many key bartenders in the 1990s and his next project, Townhouse, in fashionable Chelsea, mixed up modern drinks for the city’s wealthier elite. He’s written several books on cocktails and now spends his days advising top bars, restaurants and hotels around the world on how to serve their spirits.
Ankrah, who recently visited India to shake up a storm at our bars, has his work cut out for him. Champagne-based drinks aren’t new. They’ve been around for almost as long as champagne’s been around – 300 years. Champagne punch recipes calling for brandy and orange liqueurs have shown up in old cookbooks dating to the 1860s.
Douglas Ankrah, Master blender, at work
Proper champagne cocktails, however, probably bubbled into our lives in 1861, when England went into mourning for Prince Albert and a London bartender put a black spin on the drink. He blended it with Guinness stout to make a Black Velvet, creating one of the first champagne-based mixes.
The first recipe for a champagne cocktail, as it were, dates to Jerry Thomas’s The Bar-Tenders Guide from 1862. Thomas recommended we fill a tumbler a third-full of broken ice. Pour in champagne, half a teaspoon sugar, two dashes of bitters, a piece of lemon peel. Shake. Serve.You read right. Shake. As in, cause a minor explosion by agitating a carbonated drink! Later recipes amended the method by omitting the shaking bit – but no one knows for sure how many accidents those early cocktails might have caused.
Regardless, it seems people seemed to really like the taste of the sweet-sharp champagne drink. Mark Twain mentioned it in his 1969 work Innocents Abroad. And in 1889, the bubbling cocktail finally had its shining moment when a man named John Dougherty added brandy to a champagne cocktail and won the New York cocktail competition. Cognac got added to the list of optional additions around the turn of the 20th century and today, as Ankrah will show you, almost anything can go into a great-tasting champagne cocktail.
With champagne, the secret to crafting a great drink is always in the order of assembly. Most recipes get you to add the spirit slowly and only as the final step (it’s called charging). Don’t try to be 007. Don’t shake. Don’t stir. As with most of life’s finest luxuries, take your time and enjoy every moment – that’s the spirit.
• 25 ml Blender’s Pride whisky
• Licor 43
• White sugar cube coated with orange bitters or Angostura bitters
• Champagne for charging (pour slowly to top up the glass)
Glassware: Champagne/rock glass
Method: Pour all ingredients into a glass and add the Licor 43 to calm the champagne down and to stop it from over fizzing.
Garnish: Marinated segments of orange in Licor 43. You could also add fresh pomegranate to add more colour to the drink.
• 30-40ml Havana Club rum
• 2 bar spoons of castor sugar
• 8 leaves of fresh mint
• 10ml sugar syrup and one teaspoon of castor sugar
• 15ml freshly pressed lime juice
Glassware: Champagne flute.
Method: Shake all ingredients for about 2-3 minutes, allowing the fresh mint to bruise and then fill the rest of the glass with chilled champagne.
Garnish: Fresh mint coated with castor sugar.
SPECIAL DIWALI PUNCH
• 140 ml of freshly pressed Seville orange juice
• 50ml of Good Agaves Tequila
• 30ml of Mandarine Napoleon or Cointreau
• Half a bottle of Cava sparkling wine
Glassware: A big jug to prepare it in. Best served in rock glass. This simple drink works best for big gatherings.
Method: Mix all ingredients in a cocktail jug then add the Cava and hard cubed ice to the finished drink.
Garnish: Wheels of orange inserted with mint and drops of Angostura
• Chill your sparkling wines.
• Don’t use cheap sparkling for cocktails. Good ingredients make a good drink. Don’t use the highest end sparkling either. Drink your Dom straight.
• As most sparkling wine drinks are on the sweet side, use a dry sparkling [aka Brut] for cocktails.
• Chill the glass ahead of time. Sparkling wine taste best when served well chilled.
• Pour small amounts of sparkling in at a time to prevent the flute from foaming over.
• 25ml of Hendricks gin
• 15 ml elderflower cordial or St Germain elderflower liqueur
• 2-3 seeds of cardamom seeds
• 15ml freshly pressed juices of lime
Glassware: Anything will do. It can also be made in a big jar or punch bowl.
Method: Shake all ingredients and then simply charge with (pour small amounts of) Sula Brut.
Garnish: Fresh mint, cardamom, and long shavings of fresh
cucumber. You could also add fresh pomegranate seeds to add more colour to the drink.
This story appeared in the Brunch Quarterly, the new lifestyle magazine from Hindustan Times. Out on stands now.
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