A “champagne daiquiri” from the golden age of flight
Airmail? When I heard the term, I pictured special delivery at Hogwarts. Then I remembered: Airmail used to be a big deal, back in the day.
A few decades ago (when this cocktail was invented), airmail was the most reliable way to deliver important documents quickly. Fed-X didn’t exist. Long-distance telephone did, but it was pricey (and many people didn’t have phones). Email, IM, Skype? Sorry, no interwebs then.
The Airmail Cocktail recalls an era when planes were at the technological cutting edge. Fortunately, however, no advanced technology is needed to shake up this refreshing mix of rum and champagne. And like the airmail of yore, it delivers.
Recipe: The Airmail Cocktail
The Airmail (sometimes spelled Air Mail) Cocktail contains amber rum, lime juice, honey, and champagne—or sparkling wine, which is what most of us will use (more on that in the Notes).
This is a hefty drink, both in size and alcoholic content, so it requires a good-sized glass. The usual choice is a tall (Collins) glass filled with ice. Served this way, the drink lasts a long time—making it a nice slow sipper.
Garnish is optional for this drink. Years ago, bartenders sometimes pasted an airmail stamp on the glass (hey, I’m just the messenger here). Nowadays, many people like a garnish of mint. I prefer a lime wedge—or no garnish at all.
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 2 ounces golden (aka “amber”) rum (see Notes)
- ½ - 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (I prefer 1 ounce, but see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ~5 ounces champagne (or sparkling wine; see Notes)
- lime wedge or wheel (optional)
- Add the rum, lime juice, and honey to a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake for a good 30 seconds to mix the honey (if you add ice at this point, it’s harder to incorporate the honey).
- Now fill the cocktail shaker half-full with ice, and shake again until thoroughly chilled—20 seconds or so.
- Strain the drink into a tall glass filled with ice cubes or shaved ice. Top up the glass with champagne. Garnish with lime wedge, if you wish, and serve.
- For this drink, I prefer a 2:1 ratio of rum to lime juice (i.e., 2 ounces of rum to 1 ounce of lime juice). But many people prefer a 4:1 ratio. If you’d like to try that, use just ½ ounce of lime juice.
- Some drinkers also prefer 2 teaspoons of honey in this cocktail.
- It can be difficult to mix honey into drinks. So if you’re planning to make this drink often, you might want to make some honey simple syrup, which is easier to incorporate: Just mix equal parts of honey and boiling water, and stir until the honey dissolves. Pour the mixture into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate it. When you mix up the drink, substitute the syrup for honey—but use twice as much as the recipe calls for (because you’ve diluted the honey with water).
- Any decent amber or golden rum works in this drink. Barcardi is fine, but there are loads of other good amber rums out there.
- Some people insist that the best rum for this drink is añejo (aged) rum. It’s definitely a great choice, but also an expensive one.
- Under European law, only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France (and is bottled under certain conditions) can be sold as “champagne.”
- Champagne gets its characteristic bubbles because it undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle—a technique called “méthode champenoise.” By European law, that wording can now be used only to describe sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region. Other sparkling wines made in the same way must use the nomenclature “méthode traditionnelle” or “fermented in the bottle,” or the equivalent.
- It’s difficult to find true champagne in the US for under $30 a bottle. But most of the decent sparkling wines made in the US (and all the cavas made in Spain) are fermented in the bottle. Many of these sparklers rival champagne in flavor.
- For an American sparkling wine that’s inexpensive, I suggest Korbel brut or Domaine Ste.-Michelle. Both cost in the low to mid-teens. If you can spend a bit more, Mumm’s Napa offers good value.
- Spanish cavas can be even less expensive, often selling in the $8 to $9 range. Cordorniu and Freixenet are two brands that can be found in most grocery stores.
- My favorite un-champagne in this price range is Saint-Hilaire (the full name is Saint-Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux), which is made in a Benedictine Abbey in southwestern France. This wine actually predates champagne and is in fact France’s oldest sparkling wine. Thomas Jefferson loved it, and served it to guests when he was president. It typically costs $13 or $14 in the US (though friends tell us it can be had for $10 at Costco).
- Lots of options here. My advice? Drop by your local liquor store and ask the sales people what “champagne” they recommend for cocktails (in the price range you prefer). They’ll usually have several good suggestions.
- How this drink got its name is a mystery (as is the date when it originated). The recipe seems to have first appeared in print in the 1949 edition of Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts. But some say the cocktail actually dates back to 1919; this story says the drink was invented in Cuba, supposedly to celebrate the arrival of airmail to the island. True? I dunno. But I do know it’s delish!
- I’ve heard this cocktail described as a mix between a French 75 (which is gin, lemon, and champagne) and a Honey Bee (Jamaican rum, honey, and lime or lemon).
- The Honey Bee is actually quite similar to the Classic Daiquiri (although the Daiquiri is more often made with light rum, and simple syrup instead of honey). I like to think of the Airmail as a Champagne Daiquiri.
“This was the perfect drink to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “After all, he delivered the original airmail packages.”
“True,” I said. “And he deserves one of these after wrestling all those presents.”
“And keeping those reindeer in line,” said Mrs K R. “I bet they can get out of hand when they sip from the wassail bowl.”
“Yeah, I suspect they steal a little nip while Santa is busy scooting down chimneys.”
“Absolutely!” said Mrs K R. “Now you know how Rudolph got that nose so bright.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Kir Royale Cocktail
French 75 Cocktail
Classic Champagne Cocktail
Or check out the index for more