The ultimate Champagne cocktail
Emerging from gold-plated lifts, KP and I were greeted by rows of smiling human nutcrackers who flanked the corridor. An elegant lady in a white stain ball gown ushered us into the Royal Suite at the Burj al Arab; it was an overwhelming dazzle of fairy lights, candles and decorations; a gleaming, shimmering, luxurious, festive fantasy. Moving swiftly through the plush rooms to the bar, I was soon sipping a Diamonds are forever cocktail and would not have been at all surprised if Shirley Bassey herself had made an appearance beside me.
Whether you think Champagne is ‘mostly overrated and always overpriced‘ or “too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right” putting this luxurious wine into a cocktail always feels a little decadent; especially true in this case as the cocktail I was drinking was, until recently, the most expensive in the world. It contained L’Heraud Grand Champagne 1906 vintage Cognac, bitters from Germany and Champagne with 24 carat gold in it all housed in a special Swarovski glass which you can take home with you if you’ve paid for the cocktail at the price of 4900 AED (£838/$1347).
Head sommelier, Nicholas Murcott, told me that gold has medicinal benefits apparently prescribed to alleviate nervous disorders and stress. I must say I felt wonderfully relaxed as I tried to calculate how much each sip was worth, and gave up, while contemplating the gleaming bottle of Luxor Champagne which looked like the world’s most expensive snow globe.
The interior of the Burj al Arab seems to come into its own at Christmas. With a surfeit of gleaming, golden surfaces and jewel colours already, the additional application of festive festoons takes it to another level. It is like being an ant inside an enormous decoration. The tallest nutcracker in the Middle East at almost 5 metres (it was going to be in the world but they couldn’t get it in the door) takes pride of place in the atrium (which is the tallest in the world) this year. I must also mention the excellent RBQ Jazz Trio who play in the Skyview bar, where I escaped to with Abu Dhabi Classic FM’s Surianah Mahmoud for a jazz fix at the end of this mind-boggling evening. Information, more images and a video below if you are in the market for this kind of luxury.
If, like me, you’ll be spending Christmas at home with friends and family, a Champagne cocktail is a great way to make everyone feel a bit special.
Who made the first Champagne cocktail is difficult to tell but recipes were published by Mrs Beeton (in 1861) and in the first cocktail book Bon Vivant’s Companion by “Professor” Jerry Thomas (in 1862).
It first appears in literature in Charles Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames:
“Champagne makes a capital cocktail, but will not stand the shaking up process, so it is better, in this case, to shake up the rest of the ingredients, and add the champagne last. Lemon, sugar, bitters, ice, as aforesaid, a glass of good.”
The ‘roaring 20s’ epitomised the cocktail revolution. The pages of PG Wodehouse are littered with libations; the novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime, describes a fictional concoction which has to be abbreviated as “The May Queen.” The full name of the cocktail, as described by Lord Ickenham, is “To-morrow’ll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I’m to be Queen of the May, mother, I’m to be Queen of the May.” The recipe given as follows: Its foundation is any good, dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, armagnac, kummel, yellow chartreuse and old stout, to taste.
F.Scott Fitzgerald summed it all up “Here’s to alcohol, the rose colored glasses of life.” in The Beautiful and Damned and champagne flows through his novels like a river. Truman Capote’s comically tragic story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, about the charmingly naive Holly Golightly, is similarly oiled. Upon news of Fred the narrator’s upcoming publication, Holly and Fred enjoy “Manhattans at Joe Bell’s,” and when Joe hears of Fred’s good news, they get “champagne cocktails on the house.” In the sharp satire Gentleman Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, opportunist and money-seeking heroine Lorelei Lee opines: “So we came to the Ritz Hotel and the Ritz Hotel is devine [sic]. Because when a girl can sit in a delightful bar and have delicious champagne cocktails and look at all the important French people in Paris, I think it is devine.”
Cinematic references include cocktails made with pink champagne sipped by Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in the movie An Affair to Remember and Humphrey Bogart utters the memorable words in Casablanca to Ingrid Bergman, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” while he fixes her a drink made of dry Champagne, brandy, a sugar cube and bitters.
How to make a Champagne Cocktail
Good quality ingredients are essential for any recipe but save your vintage Dom Perignon or Perrier Joet for drinking unadulterated. You could substitute Cava, Spanish sparkling wine which is made in the same way as Champagne (méthod traditionele or Champenoise) but is often a bit drier.
1 sugar cube
3-4 drops of bitters (angostura or other aromatic bitters)
20 ml brandy
Place the sugar cube in a Champagne flute. Carefully drip the bitters onto the sugar cube and then slowly pour on the brandy. Top up with Champagne. A garnish of lemon peel is optional.
Some other Champagne cocktails:
Bellini – originally made with Prosecco and fresh peach juice, you can also use Champagne
Black Velvet – a mix of stout (such as Guinness) and Champagne. Great with oysters
Death in the afternoon – invented by Hemmingway who advised of this heady mix of absinthe topped up with Champagne ‘drink 3-5 of these slowly’
Kir Royale – kir and Champagne for blackcurrant flavoured bubbles
Mimosa – one part freshly squeezed orange juice to one part Champagne. If two parts orange to Champagne it’s a Buck’s Fizz
Quince Champagne cocktail – inspired by Diana Henry, I’ve been steeping quince in brandy for weeks to make quince ratafia to add to bubbles.
If you are inspired by these there is a list of over 100 Champagne cocktail recipes here.
Places to drink a Champagne cocktail in Dubai:
Skyview bar, Burj Al Arab – serves a range of Champagne cocktails at their Sky tea, as well as the Diamonds are Forever cocktail.
Zuma – renowned for its award-winning mixologists.
Up on the 10th, Radisson Blu hotel, Dubai Deira Creek – you can sip the bar’s signature beverage while listening to jazz and taking in great views of the city until 3am.
Vus bar - a long-established loft bar on the 51st floor is still a great place to order a Champagne cocktail and look at the view. A table by the window is recommended.
101 Lounge and Bar, One & Only, Palm Dubai – ultra-chic indoor-outdoor venue is situated within the resort’s private marina, enabling guests’ entry by private boat.
4 ways to add Burj al Arab luxury to your Christmas
- Buy a gold chocolate log created by Executive Pastry Chef, Johannes Bonin this is a chocolate cake with cacao streusel, lemon and Tahitian vanilla compote, chocolate mousse “Grandma”, foamy ivory mousse like “Dulce de leche” and edible gold leaf. Price: AED 500
- Take away a roast turkey and all the trimmings including herb and garlic roast potatoes, buttered Brussel sprouts, French beans, sautéed carrots, sage, onion and fruit stuffing, veal chipolatas, honey-glazed chestnuts and cinnamon roasted pumpkin wedges. Price (5-6 KG 10 People) AED 650
(7-9 KG 12 People) AED 750
- Order an exclusive festive Diamonds are Forever cocktail at the Skyview Bar. Served in a Swarovski Crystalline cocktail glass, with diamonds in the stem, the name was inspired by the 29,000 Swarovski crystals in the ceiling of Junsui Lounge in the Burj Al Arab, designed in the shape of the Milky Way. Price AED 4,950
- Dine or stay at the Burj al Arab – full details here
Blink and you’ll miss it - drinking in action in this video of the event..and yes it was a delicious cocktail. And yes, it is an immense amount of money for pay for a drink, especially with the world in recession. The Burj al Arab certainly knows its market and what appeals to the super rich.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Burj al Arab for their Christmas launch event but the decision to write about it is my own
This event was great fun to attend, but when push comes to shove, my idea of luxury is picking a perfectly ripe Victoria plum from a tree and eating it. What’s luxury to you? Champagne all the way or simple pleasures?
- Gold plated Christmas (My Custard Pie)
- The world’s most expensive cocktail? (Foodiva)
- Famous cocktails: from silver screen to bars and clubs (brandsandfilms.com)