When it comes to champagne, the common assumption is that it has to be drunk on its own without any, er, embellishments. However, since the 1800s, bartenders have created some of history’s most iconic cocktails by using Champagne.
While some of these cocktails are relatively well known, like the ubiquitous Mimosa and the classic French 75, others like the refreshing Air Mail and even the Classic Champagne Cocktail have been largely forgotten, especially in the current Malaysian cocktail scene.
According to Bastien Michaud, brand ambassador for Mumm champagnes and wines in Malaysia, champagne cocktails tend to have a reputation of being old fashioned, overpriced and out of trend.
However, he thinks that champagne cocktails are a “fantastic base to express a bartender’s creativity”.
“Starting with champagne, the main star of those cocktails; one can explore other sparkling wines to create an infinity of fresh and original cocktails,” he said.
One example he gives is the recently launched Mumm Marlborough sparkling wine from New Zealand. Part of the Mumm Terroir Series, the wine is produced using Méthode Traditionnelle techniques from the French Champagne maker, G.H. Mumm. It’s made with 45% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier grown in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, and aged for a minimum of 20 months.
“This sparkling wine uses the same three grapes as the original Mumm champagne, and follows the same fabrication process, while also benefiting from New Zealand’s terroir,” Michaud explains.
“It offers a slightly different flavour profile than the original Mumm Grand Cordon champagne, with more freshness and tension thanks to the Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region, unveiling a more citrus forward balance in addition of the traditional champagne taste palette.”
When it comes to making champagne cocktails, it also helps that the Mumm Marlborough is also more, well, cost-effective compared to traditional Champagne. During our cocktail-making session at the Jann bar at Four Points by Sheraton in Kuala Lumpur, I got Michaud to make me some classic Champagne Cocktails using the wine, and explain the intricacies of each drink.
How to make it: Dash one sugar cube with three dashes of bitters, add 30ml cognac, then topped up with 100ml champagne or sparkling wine in a champagne flute.
Dating back to the 1800s, this is arguably the most classic of champagne cocktails (so classic it is actually called a Champagne Cocktail).
Michaud reckons this drink is the “perfect illustration of the French know-how”, since it mixes Champagne and Cognac in one glass, thus combining two of the most French ingredients in a bold and elegant cocktail.
The result is a drink that sounds like a Cognac Old Fashioned topped with Champagne, but is actually a pretty elegant drink that balances sweet, bitter and the dry sourness of champagne, or in this case the Mumm Marlborough, perfectly.
How to make it: Shake 15ml lemon juice, 5ml sugar syrup and 45ml gin over ice, and strain into a Champagne flute then top up with 75ml champagne or sparkling wine.
Another well-known champagne cocktail that dates back to the 1800s and early 1900s, the French 75 is a drink that has inspired numerous twists over the years, like the French 76, French 125, and so on. Fun fact: One of the oldest versions wasn’t even a champagne cocktail at all (using gin, apple brandy, grenadine and lemon juice instead).
According to Michaud, using the slightly more citrusy Mumm Marlborough enhances the tension and the astringency of this cocktail. It also complements the freshness of lemon juice to create a very intense and refreshing cocktail, though using a sweeter sparkling wine could offer a very different expression of this cocktail if you balance the lemon juice just right.
How to make it: Pour 30ml absinthe into a cocktail glass and top up with champagne.
I’ve mentioned this drink before in a previous absinthe-related story, but it is such a classic Champagne cocktail that it bears repeating. Created by acclaimed writer Ernest Hemingway, as a contribution to 1935 cocktail book So Red The Nose, or Breath In The Afternoon, his recipe called for the reader to “pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass, add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness”.
The result is a potent but addictive flavourful drink that is great for a hot afternoon, though perhaps one should not take Hemingway’s recommendation of drinking “three to five of these slowly” in one day to heart!
According to Michaud, this bold and rich cocktail is packed with flavour and alcohol, and since absinthe is naturally sweet, using a fresher and maybe slightly more sour sparkling wine like Mumm Marlborough offers a better balance in the cocktail, making it even easier on the palate.
How to make it: Top up 90ml fresh orange juice with 90ml champagne in a Champagne flute and serve.
Ah, the Mimosa. The classic brunch cocktail. That perfect combination of fresh orange juice and champagne is just so easy and refreshing to drink that there really is no disputing its classic status. It is said to have been created in 1925 by bartender Frank Meier at Paris’ Ritz Hotel, and named after the Acacia dealbata, otherwise known as the Mimosa flower plant.
“This is probably the most consumed Champagne cocktail in the world,” says Michaud, adding that it is also so easy to twist as well, in order to bring new life to this old classic.
The fresh citrus notes of Mumm Marlborough also combines well with the fresh orange juice, with the two distinct citrus flavours complementing one another without really overpowering each other, thus allowing one to serve a “unique and budget friendly version” of the Mimosa.
How to make it: Shake 30ml rum, 15ml lime juice, and 15ml honey syrup over ice, strain into a highball glass with ice and top up with 45ml champagne or sparkling wine.
Arguably the most underrated and relatively unknown champagne cocktail on our list, the origins of the Air Mail dates back to the 1930s, and is a wonderfully refreshing highball drink that takes the unlikely combination of rum and champagne to a new level.
“We don’t see enough of the Air Mail in our favourite cocktails bars here,” says Michaud.
“Like the French 75, this naturally balanced cocktail offers a marvelous playground for the bartender’s creativity, as one can play with different aged rums, adjust the intensity of the honey, or even the dryness of the champagne.
“Using Mumm Marlborough, we achieved a rather unique expression, enhancing the light and refreshing flavor of the lime, perfectly balanced by an intense honey syrup.”