Monday, January 12, 2015

One for the Road... The Cinzano Sparkling Cocktail

In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, John presents the Cinzano Sparkling Cocktail

First off, happy 2015! We had a few bottles of Brut laying around after our New Year's celebration (apparently the only thing not emptied out that night), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment with a variation of the Champagne or sparkling cocktail.

The Cinzano Sparkling Cocktail comes to us from the Savoy Cocktail Book. Mr. Henry Craddock first published this gorgeously designed book in 1925, and I think it is fair to describe it as a bridge between the pre- and post-Prohibition cocktail eras. Mr. Craddock fled the US in 1925 for wetter environs in London, where he became the head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. Pre-Prohibition cocktail culture found a welcoming home away from home at the American Bar, and Mr. Craddock's collection of more than 700 recipes immortalized the drinks he offered up to his thirsty patrons. 

This was actually the first cocktail book I bought when I first ventured down this rabbit hole, which presented some interesting challenges. It is filled with references to anachronistic ingredients that are no longer readily available (in the US or Cambodia) or have changed significantly in construction since Mr. Craddock first recorded his recipes. Initially this was intimidating and frustrating, but ultimately it proved to be liberating when I realized it allowed me to play with the recipes he recorded and find what worked for me.

Which brings us to the main ingredient, Cinzano Brut. This is definitely not available in Cambodia or, as far as I can tell, anywhere else. The Cinzano family business, which dates back to the eighteenth century, started changing hands around 1985 and by 1999 it had settled in under the Gruppo Campari (yes, that Campari). According to their website, the Brut is no longer available; the closest thing they seem to produce now is a Gran Sec, but this is likely a sweeter variation than what Mr. Craddock would have used. Another interesting factoid: Cinzano was the sponsor for the fictional Italian cycling team which appears in Breaking Away, a great little movie about a cycling enthusiast and his cutter friends in my mom's hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. It even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screen Play in 1979. If you haven't seen it, you should check it out. The Cinzano Racing Team in that movie were a bunch of stronzi, so I have no apprehensions about leaving this unattainable sparkling wine in the dust.

To be honest I'm not a huge Champagne or sparkling wine fan, and I haven't been blown away by experiments with some other sparkling cocktail recipes. This particular drink, though, is one that I will happily spend time with if the occasion calls for some bubbly.

The Drink
The real beauty of this cocktail is the simplicity. The ingredients are pretty basic, there's no elaborate preparation or mixing, it's easy to experiment with, and the end result is quite satisfying.

The base ingredient, of course, is Champagne or sparkling wine. I prefer dryer sparkling, so opted to follow Mr. Craddock's lead and went with a Brut from De Chanceny Vouvray. This is probably a higher quality sparkling then you need to use, but it was readily available and, well, nothing but the best for you, dear readers.

As you will note in the recipe, the remaining ingredients - brandy, Curaçao, bitters and sugar - make up just a small quantity of the drink, but their impact on the flavor profile is significant. This is also where you can play a little bit and make the drink your own. If you want a heavier, more robust drink you can give the brandy a heavy pour (or perhaps substitute with some bourbon) and add a few more dashes of bitters. If you want a sweeter concoction, you can add a little more sugar or Curaçao (triple sec, Cointreau... all the same thing), with the latter adding a hint of orange, as well.

Now, Mr. Craddock called for this to be served in a wine glass with ice. Aside from expressing a lemon peel over the glass, it is also absent a garnish. While I largely stayed true to his original recipe, here I must digress. I think the use of a champagne flute is a far more elegant way to serve this up, and truer to the nature of the base ingredient. The addition of an orange twist brings a little flair to the affair and better accents the Cointreau, I think. And I find the ice wholly unnecessary both in utility and aesthetics, as long as the champagne is already chilled, that is. As Mr. Craddock is quoted as saying, the best way to drink a cocktail is "quickly, while it's laughing at you". If you follow that advice, you need not worry about the drink getting warm.

Ultimately it probably isn't accurate to call this a Cinzano Sparkling Cocktail. So in honor of the drink's and my own family's roots, I present to you the Cutter Sparkling Cocktail. Cheers!
The Cinzano Cutter Sparkling Cocktail

The Recipe

The Cinzano Sparkling Cocktail, per The Savoy Cocktail Book:

"In a wine glass put 1 lump of Sugar, 2 dashes of Angostura, 1 dash of Curaçao, 1 teaspoonful Brandy, 1 lump of Ice.  
Fill up with Cinzano Brut, stir slightly, and squeeze lemon peel on top."

The Cutter Sparkling Cocktail:

De Chanceny Vouvray Brut Excellence 2012 
1 teaspoon - Hennesy Cognac Privilége V.S.O.P
3 dashes - Angostura bitters
1/4 teaspoon - Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon - white sugar

In a champagne flute, soak the sugar in the bitters then add the Cointreau and brandy and stir briefly. Fill with champagne, stir again until mixed and finish with an orange twist.

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