That Old Fashioned Champ
There’s nothing quite like a great flute of Champagne, so it figures that there’s nothing quite like a Champagne cocktail either. For me, a great Champagne speaks volumes without ever overstating – it’s complex and refined and above all delicious and special. That translates to what a Champagne cocktail is in my mind as well. It should be simple, straightforward, and the bubbly needs to stand out as the star we all know it to be.
When K&L Champagne Buyer, Gary Westby, asked if I had any thoughts on a cocktail for using the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve bottles I knew I had a shortlist of recipes that I wanted to try, but I ultimately settled on the Champagne Old Fashioned, or as I fondly refer to it: That Old Fashioned Champ. As its name implies, it riffs on one of the most classic of all cocktails, and just as the traditional Old Fashioned relies on simplicity of function to let the few ingredients shine beautifully, this Champagne version takes the same approach so you can appreciate each element that contributes to the beverage.
Of course, Westby being Westby, this wasn’t exactly a straightforward mission. He didn’t just want a great cocktail; he wanted to try it out with both the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Brut AND the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Demi-Sec to see how the sweetness levels of the two Champagnes interacted in the resulting drink. Gary made it a puzzle and a game.
Nowadays, most Champagne cocktails call for Brut or Extra Brut and then add sugar. This was the approach I took with the BF Brut. My recipe went:
· 1 sugar cube or 1/8th teaspoon granulated white sugar
· ½ oz K&L Dudognon Reserve (could substitute with Armagnac de La Grangerie 3 yr)
· 2 dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters
· 4 oz Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Brut (NV)
Place the sugar cube in your Champagne flute, splash in those bitters, add your Cognac, and then fill the flute with Champagne to your heart’s desire (or… you know, the rim of the glass).
The resulting cocktail is smashing. It’s effervescent and the soft green/yellow apple notes of the Baron-Fuente stand up throughout. The orange bitters add a citrus zest element to the drink that harkens to the twist of orange in the classic Old Fashioned. The weight of the Cognac is put in place by the zippy acidity of the Bubbly. I really enjoyed this.
I have a confession though. Despite how great the Brut version happened to be, it was dethroned by the Demi-Sec. On its own, the Demi-Sec stands out not merely because of the additional sweetness, but it also has notes of vanilla cream and nectarine that combine well with the slightly toastier flavors in this wine. It also has a dramatically different texture, and happens to be quite voluptuous, almost viscous. Despite that heft, the bubbles are bigger and more assertive, providing a great balance to the glass. All these flavor and texture characteristics ended up making it best for The Old Fashioned Champ.
With the Demi-Sec, I knew there was no need for additional sugar. This meant the drink was streamlined to a brief: Cognac, bitters, Champagne. There is beauty in simplicity, my friends. This version of the cocktail was sweeter overall than the Brut variation, but nowhere near cloying. The Cognac cuts through the viscosity of the Demi-Sec while the wine manages to maintain its body and heft.
It was also interesting to note a few visual/textural differences. While dashing the sugar cube with the bitters before adding the other liquids made for a nice presentation, that extra sugar made the Champagne foam up something fierce yet then deprived the resulting cocktail of those beautiful bubbles that make Champagne so fun and expressive. Going with the Demi-Sec with no additional sugar, it was best to pour the Baron-Fuente straight down into the flute (in any other case a Champagne Shame) so that this wine with its aggressive bubbles mixed the drink for you. Because of this, the ingredients were perfectly integrated and the Bubbly stayed very bubbly.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two versions made here is that the Demi-Sec variation has so much more lovely spice elements contributing to the cocktail’s profile, characteristics that weren’t apparent when drinking the wine on its own. That vanilla cream element to the Baron-Fuente Grande Reserve Demi-Sec transforms with the help of the Cognac and orange bitters into something with hints of cinnamon, allspice, clove, and dried citrus fruits.
Most variations of this cocktail call for more Brandy (typically a full ounce!), but I find that to be a disservice. Champagne, for me, is always about memories and elegance. The half-ounce of Cognac melds seamlessly. The Brandy is present – adding its strength and distinction – but the Champagne remains the star. The cocktail becomes something more than the sum of its parts and defies simple binaries. It’s not light; it’s not heavy. It’s not dry; it’s not sweet. It’s Champagne, but it’s something else entirely. I love it because it’s a cocktail that takes you a little deeper into Champagne.
Perhaps I’ll end by letting my partner summarize their impressions since I can’t think of any better way to say it:
“It’s Champagne with more sparkle.”
- Neal Fischer