The Happiest Hour: When in doubt, order a Champagne Cocktail


We are days away from New Year’s Eve. So (without any good reason) we turn to Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad for some truly American cocktail wisdom. It’s worth noting that Twain’s reference to this venerable (and occasionally maligned) drink trails Jerry Thomas’s inclusion in his 1862 bartender manual only by seven years. Also worth note, that the drink was so popular among ladies that it was called “Chorus Girl’s Milk.” Whether or not you want to splurge on the Dom is entirely up to you!

We ferreted out another French imposition—a frequent sign to this effect: “ALL MANNER OF AMERICAN DRINKS ARTISTICALLY PREPARED HERE.” We procured the services of a gentleman experienced in the nomenclature of the American bar, and moved upon the works of one of these impostors. A bowing, aproned Frenchman skipped forward and said:
“Que voulez les messieurs?” I do not know what “Que voulez les messieurs?” means, but such was his remark.
Our general said, “We will take a whiskey straight.”
[A stare from the Frenchman.] “Well, if you don’t know what that is, give us a champagne cocktail.”
[A stare and a shrug.] “Well, then, give us a sherry cobbler.”
The Frenchman was checkmated. This was all Greek to him.
“Give us a brandy smash!”
The Frenchman began to back away, suspicious of the ominous vigor of the last order….
The General followed him up and gained a complete victory. The uneducated foreigner could not even furnish a Santa Cruz Punch, an Eye-Opener, a Stone-Fence, or an Earthquake. It was plain that he was a wicked impostor.

“The Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain, 1869

Here’s the classic recipe that would have sufficed:

In a Champagne fute:
1 sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters
Fill with Champagne
Garnish with a lemon twist

For more about yesterday’s drinks and today’s hotspots, pick up a copy of Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits, by Stephanie Schorow or download the free smartphone app. Cheers!

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