First, as always, we need a splash of historical context. Right about smack dab in the middle of the 19th century someone had the idea to tone down the archetypal cocktail by substituting refined and subdued Champagne for the usual high-octane spirit of choice. The simple process of sugar soaked with bitters gleefully showered by some fine Champagne became all the rage. To this day, the classic Champagne Cocktail is still made pretty much the same way: place a ½ teaspoon sugar cube on the bottom of whatever style of glass you prefer (I like a basic wine glass instead of a flute), dowse it with 3 or 4 dashes of Angostura bitters (one report has lauded using Peychaud’s as a change of pace), and fill with chilled Champagne.
Now we’ll move on to my Guerrilla variants beginning with a drink I created while at a pre-wedding celebration in Vermont over the Labor Day weekend.
At a gathering the night before her wedding, I asked Katie what she usually ordered when she went to a bar. After a few questions, here were the parameters: She usually drinks wine; when she drinks a mixed drink, it’s usually something mixed with juice (like pineapple) or other sweet mixers; and when she craves a treat, it’s usually something with raspberries. I used the upscale Kir Royale as a model, which fits nicely into the archetypal sling category – spirit and sweet.
The plain Kir was the original drink: white wine and crème de casis (a French black current liqueur from the Burgundy region of France). Its name at birth was the Blanc Cassis, but it was rewarded with the name Kir after the tenure of Dijon mayor Canon Felix Kir, who served the people of that city from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1960’s. In order to promote this local liqueur, he would treat his guests to a Blanc Cassis, using a local white wine. The Royale was the upgraded version when the white wine turned to Champagne. The amount of crème de cassis used should be adjusted to taste, but start with about ½ oz. Add a nice lemon twist as a garnish.
For Katie’s Wedding, here’s what I did: The bar at the function had a sparkling California wine, which was just fine. I told the barkeep to keep the concept of a Kir Royale in mind, but to make it with Chambord (another French liqueur but using black raspberries) instead of crème de cassis and add a bit of pineapple juice. I found no raspberries, but there was a nice strawberry on the appetizer bar so I put a slit in it and hung it on the side of the glass. Katie loved it. Here’s the recipe; feel free to adjust it to taste.
5 oz. Champagne
½ oz. Chambord
¾ oz. pineapple juice
Build this in a wine glass starting with the Champagne. Slowly add the Chambord and then the pineapple juice. Garnish with two fresh raspberries.
Fiore di Mimosa
Ann’s brother, Bill, lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and our travels there often take us through the quaint and culinarily astute town of Frederick, Maryland. On our way home from a family function this past October, we stopped in Frederick for a small nosh. On this visit, among the ever-growing array of fine establishments, we selected an Italian place called Olives located on Main Street in downtown Frederick. It was barely noon, if that, and brunch just seemed like the right thing to do.
I don’t now recall what Ann or I ordered to eat, but we left pleased. On the other hand, Ann’s sister, Grace, who was traveling with us, selected a dish I remember rather clearly: Sacchitti al Formaggio e Pere. The menu describes this as “Pasta Sacks stuffed with Pear, Ricotta, Taleggio Sauce, Glazed Walnuts.” I would describe it as delicious.
We sat at a table within eye reach of the bar. There appeared to be no bartender on duty, but I noticed a bottle of Compari on the back bar. It was brunch but I’m too fussy about Bloody Marys – not to mention the remaining 2½ hours left to drive – so I decided on a Mimosa with one small change. I asked the server to put a splash of Compari in it. Ann thought that sounded good, so she asked for just the Champagne with a splash of Compari. I can’t say that I’ve ever gushed over a Mimosa, but this little bit of bitters from the Compari really hit the spot. And Ann really enjoyed her drink with just the Compari. We both continue to order these drinks from time to time.
1 – 2 oz. orange juice
4 oz. Champagne or other sparkling wine
Splash of Compari
Pour the OJ in the glass first, and then follow with the Champagne, which will serve to mix the drink as much as it needs to be mixed. Add the splash of Compari and garnish with an orange slice.
I don’t know how the Mimosa got its name, but when I looked up the Mimosa tree, I noted that the flowers had a pink hue to them. Thus, the name. (Translation note: fiore in Italian means flower; so you have Mimosa Flower.)
On New Year’s Eve, Ann and I spent the evening with our dear friends Tom and Vicki, who is our son-in-law’s aunt. For the evening, Tom bought a number of spirits and mixers in anticipation of an evening of Guerrilla Cocktails. Just in case, I brought a few items of my own – just to give us a fighting chance at something interesting. I did spend most of the evening mixing at least a half dozen spontaneous drinks, but most of them are now lost. I didn’t bother to write anything down.
But one I made for Vicki wasn’t a new one at all; it was the Helena’s Joy of my last post. On my way over, I had been thinking of using it in combination with some sparkling wine. I figured Tom would have some sort of bubbly or other for the evening. Turns out, he didn’t. But he and Vicki had to make an appearance at another gathering and on our way we stopped to pick something up. There was a modest array of chilled Champagnes and other sparklers, but my eye went straight to an Italian Prosecco and a Spanish Cava, both of which I have found more agreeable to my flawed palate. Again, no notes; so I can’t tell you the brand, but I went for the Cava.
With a midnight deadline, I began the preparation at 11:45 PM. Very simply, the drink was a Helena’s Joy with bubbly, ergo, Helena’s Bubbles. This recipe will make four drinks.
Prepare a Helena’s Joy:
2½ oz. Plymouth Gin
½ oz. dry vermouth
¾ oz. Grand Marnier
½ oz. Aperol
Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain equal amounts into four wine glasses or Champagne flutes. Then add:
5 oz. of Cava or other sparkling wine
No need to stir. Garnish with orange peel.
That night, I used a simple orange peel twist, but in hindsight, I could have been a little more festive. Well, it was late and we had been drinking most of the evening; unnecessary knife play would not be a good way to end the year – or start the next. I’d recommend a nice, long, curling orange peel.
It was prepared in more than enough time for the ball to drop and was a delightful way to usher in a new year with old friends.
Happy New Year!