A champagne cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway
Alcohol flowed freely in Hemingway’s stories and novels. So it’s not surprising that he invented a drink or two—including this one, which he named after his book on bullfighting.
But be warned: In addition to champagne, this drink packs some stronger stuff. After one or two of these, you might be tempted to take on a bull yourself.
Recipe: The Death in the Afternoon Cocktail
The recipe for this cocktail first appeared in print in Sterling North’s 1935 book So Red the Nose, or, Breath in the Afternoon (yes, really), a compilation of 35 cocktail recipes submitted by famous authors. Hemingway contributed this one. His instructions? “Pour one jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”
Right—do that, and the death in the drink’s name will be your own.
Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. For years, it was illegal in the US and throughout much of Europe (one of its ingredients was thought to be psychoactive and addictive). It’s now legal again—and usually quite high proof. So you might want to use Pernod or one of the other anise-flavored liqueurs (generically known as “pastis”) that were developed while absinthe was off the market. Their flavor is good and their alcoholic content is lower (80 proof as compared to 100+ proof for absinthe), so they make this drink less hefty.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 1 ounce absinthe or pastis (see headnote)
- 4 to 5 ounces of champagne or sparkling wine
- Pour the absinthe (or pastis) into a champagne flute, a cocktail glass, or a champagne coupe.
- Add the champagne or sparkling wine, and serve.
- When a cocktail recipe calls for absinthe, I generally substitute Pernod—mainly because it’s my favorite brand of pastis. But there are other good brands out there. If in doubt, ask the friendly sales people at your liquor store what they recommend.
- The original recipe for this drink specifies 1½ ounces of absinthe and 4 ounces of champagne. That’s way too strong for my taste. IMO, it tastes better with just an ounce (maybe even a bit less) of absinthe or pastis. I also like a touch more bubbly.
- Absinthe (or pastis) is so strongly flavored that it’s almost always diluted with something (water, usually). Traditionally, you would use 5 parts water to 1 part absinthe (some prefer a 3 to 1 ratio). Although absinthe is clear, when you add water (or champagne), it becomes attractively cloudy (milky).
- 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.
A Happy New Year
“Nice drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “But I’d like a bit less Pernod next time—I can barely taste the champagne.”
“I know how that must trouble you,” I said.
“Champagne is just so charmante,” said Mrs K R. “I hate to crowd out those bubbles.”
“Of course, Hemingway couldn’t resist champagne either,” I said.
“Yeah, he once claimed to have drunk a case of Piper-Heidsieck with some friends to celebrate his birthday,” said Mrs K R.
“You sound envious,” I noted.
“Well, it’s always good to have stretch goals,” said Mrs K R. “Reach exceeding grasp, and all that.”
“Especially as we head into a new year,” I said.
“Thanks for reminding me,” said Mrs K R. “It’s resolution time!”
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