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The ultimate Champagne cocktail

December 11, 2012

Diamonds are forever cocktailEmerging 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).

Diamonds are forever cocktail ingredientsHead 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.

Christmas at the Burj al Arab - Royal Suite

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.

Christmas at the Burj al Arab

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.

Diamonds are forever cocktail

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.

Sky tea at the Burj al Arab

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.

Pouring Champagne

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?

  1. December 11, 2012 1:00 pm

    Oh what glitzy life you lead! I love a champagne cocktail, I find it puts everyone in a good mood and behave themselves at a party!

    • December 11, 2012 1:54 pm

      It’s one extreme to another. I’m usually looking up from the outside, in shorts and trainers walking my dogs. Glitzy it was. And I agree that it puts people in a good mood. Cheers.

  2. December 11, 2012 1:24 pm

    We better keep this one quiet from Champagne Jayne 🙂

  3. December 11, 2012 2:12 pm

    What an absolutely amazingly decadent evening we had – hard to beat for sure! Thank you for the shout out and the history lesson 🙂 I’ll add yours to my post now. x

  4. December 11, 2012 3:36 pm

    Nice! Well I am one Champagne fan so its all music to my ears 🙂 I agree Burj Al Arab Interiors lend themselves well to Christmas :))

  5. December 11, 2012 5:12 pm

    Love this, I am enchanted by Champagne Cocktails because of Deborah and Cary and had my first taste of one on my fiftieth birthday! Will definitely be trying your recipe this holiday season. Cheers!

  6. December 11, 2012 6:39 pm

    I’m not a big fan of Champagne, but I’d love to try this cocktail!



  7. December 11, 2012 7:25 pm

    Best wishes for the new year!

  8. December 11, 2012 10:42 pm

    Well, well, well – reading this post certainly felt like I was reading something from the fairy-tale. And the photographs certainly made me feel like I was inside one of the tale. This could be the epitome of ‘high-life’! Was curious what you were wearing when I saw the video… ahhhhhhhh! As I mentioned in FooDIva’s post – I would like to ‘sniff’ one if nor ‘sip’ one. Your post took us into Burj-al-Arab – thanks for that. And as always I love your sensitivity – the last paragraph.

  9. December 12, 2012 11:40 am

    I thought I am not a champagne fan until I tried Veuve Clicquot that completely converted me. Wonderful experience.

  10. crasterkipper permalink
    December 12, 2012 12:19 pm

    Your Xmas do looks a bit more exciting than ours at the Toby Carvery!

  11. December 13, 2012 4:33 pm

    Fun! I’m headed to Venice and am going to try and get an Bellini at Harry’s Bar (home of the original)! But please tell me, how do you get your pictures side-by-side in your post? And how do you add the watermark? Thanks!

    • December 15, 2012 10:06 am

      Oh lucky, lucky you – I have never been to Venice….sigh. I use Photoshop – I resize the images (so they are half the size of a canvas) and create a new blank canvas and drag them into it. However before I moved to a Macbook I used Photoscape – an excellent free download for PC only, which I miss dreadfully. You can watermark on Photoscape too – but I now use Photoshop. I made a new transparent canvas and created the text in the size and font I want. I keep it as a psd file and drag it onto each image (between 48% to 30% transparency). I think there is a way to batch watermark but I prefer to select where it goes.

      • December 17, 2012 8:36 pm

        …sorry to barge in. There is another great way of doing a watermark in Photoshop. Just get your chosen name/logo on a blank Photoshop layer then go to Edit>Define Brush Preset. Then you can just select the brush from the normal brush palette (it will be at the bottom) when you want to use it, at whatever opacity/colour you like. You can change the size with the [ and ] keys. 🙂

      • December 18, 2012 9:41 am

        This is fantastic Claire – thanks so much. I am a novice user of Photoshop so all advice really appreciated. This sounds a much better way of doing things – especially the resizing option.

      • December 20, 2012 9:11 pm

        Thank you! I don’t have PS so will have to look for another option. The Bellini was awesome!

  12. ginger and scotch permalink
    December 15, 2012 9:39 am

    I think I need to add Champagne cocktails to our holiday party this year – cheaper to make our own than order at the Burj 🙂 and I love the name “Death in the afternoon.”

    • December 15, 2012 10:07 am

      Champagne cocktails and jelly shots. I like your style ( and yes also love the name of that cocktail)

  13. December 17, 2012 8:31 pm

    This all looks SO decadent and sparkly! How lovely. I do adore a champagne cocktail and have not had one since forever. Perhaps Christmas lunch is the perfect time for one.

  14. December 18, 2012 12:56 pm

    My recent ‘luxury’ was had at a friend’s tables: summer fruits marinated in Chamboud, a raspberry liqueur, with a sprinkling of mint, pomegranate seeds and kiwi slices. It felt might indulgent!

  15. December 18, 2012 10:29 pm

    What an amazing & wonderful evening you must have had! 🙂 But I prefer my Champagne to be normal dead good champagne! 🙂

    Thanks & Happy Holidays to you & your family! 🙂 xxx

  16. December 19, 2012 7:20 am

    What a fun post, Sally! I love that you got to try the most expensive cocktail in the world! There’s a bit of champers kicking around here, so I might give the cocktail recipe a whirl! Hope you’re enjoying the festive season – best wishes for a fabulous Christmas and a wonderful 2013! xx

  17. December 19, 2012 6:33 pm

    Holy moly!! That’s an obscene price for a drink… Am rather partial to the gold sparkly snow dome effect bottle though… Champagne based cocktails are some of life’s great joys if you ask me! 🙂

  18. December 20, 2012 4:23 pm

    Looks like one hell of a party! I’m not a fan of champagne but the worlds most expensive cocktail sounds intriguing!

  19. December 21, 2012 11:34 am

    Oh Sally what a decadent post! Am I reading correctly that you can order a Christmas dinner take away?! Now that is an idea worth exploring! I love this post, so full of fun and bubbles. I would love to visit the Burj at Christmastime, I can imagine it is the ultimate in extravagance and luxury. I’ll keep dreaming. I’ve linked to this post in my Christmas round up post. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas,

  20. December 21, 2012 12:18 pm

    Totally fascinating and extravagant celebration! I love those wines and the way you present those recipes in your tables! I love those p[pictures of yours! Keep it up!

  21. December 23, 2012 12:11 am

    You do lead such a glamorous life – I’m not sure I could deal with all that decadence. Thanks for all the detail on champagne cocktails, I’ve always been a straight up kind of girl when it comes to champagne but tempted next time to branch out. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of love and great things to eat.

  22. laura_howtocook permalink
    December 23, 2012 2:48 am

    Wow this feels like a decadent treat reading your post. I have always loved champagne cocktails and would find it hard to choose between the Ritz & Claridges for who does the best one in the UK, well London at least. Having said that, I haven’t had one in years but I am sure they do maintain their standards 🙂


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