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Champagne December: Finding Delicious Things for Special Occasions

Pictured: Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial bottle.

Week 3 of Champagne December was a sliding scale, on all fronts: of different price points of champagne, of different sweetness in my bubbly, and in first impressions.

I chased into the higher end of the market, and mostly remained underwhelmed as I lingered over bottles, trying to puzzle out the secret of their prestige. I drank champagne so dry that it seemed to desiccate my soul as it passed my tongue, and bubbly so sweet that I feared for both my teeth and the integrity of any resulting champagne cocktails. How much can the sweetness of a champagne skew the taste of a Death in the Afternoon, or a French 75?

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Brut geared at the American market is especially guilty of this over-sweetening. The so-called California Champagnes, in my opinion, should be fined for lack of truth in advertising, as the sweetness of their Brut bubblies creep toward moscato.

Even with these pitfalls, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a winner to my palate. The first glass brightened my day immediately as its complex flavors chased each other across my tongue. The second glass made me laugh, and by the third, I knew I’d need to keep a few bottles stocked in my liquor cabinet for special occasions, though it would be an investment.

A good champagne, like any other liquor and like good art, should make you pause and think on it. It’s not enough to find a booze that’s merely passable, unless you’re only looking for a go-to bar choice to survive social outings. A good drink makes you contemplate its flavor profile, what exactly you’re tasting, and why it’s having a good effect. Preferably, the thinking starts the moment it hits your mouth, and lingers well past the swallow. I’m partial toward those that provide layered taste profiles that evolve as they move across your palate.

While this is simple for me to find with gin, rum and beer, finding this in champagne can be a unicorn indeed. Champagne is at its core a white wine, its flavors light and fickle, and the heavy carbonation increases and confuses its volatile taste. Others may disagree, but for me, finding my true north in champagne is an uphill battle. Thus, finding one that immediately delights me is worth holding on to, indeed.

#ChampagneDecember on Bad Days: If You Don’t Pour Something In This F*cking Glass

It’s Champagne December, but it’s also been a long, unforgiving day. You pinched a seriously painful nerve in your right arm fixing things too far above your head. The traffic was awful, the stores crowded, your patience left frozen outside in the winter night as you navigate crowded aisles. Only to return home to a full sink of dishes, and an unrepentant Siamese cat rolling in a pile of stolen Christmas tree ornaments.

Oh, was that not your day? Am I projecting?

Regardless, there will be some days. Let me pause and stress that: there will be some days, where your need for a simple, stiff drink will supersede your need for the finer things.

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Roll with it. Don’t waste good champagne on days where you’re steps from sticking your head in the freezer and screaming.

It seemed like a good day to pick through some of my sparkling odds and ends, such as this sparkling rose from Monetto, and experiment with a few cocktail combinations.

Rosé Champagne is a thing, though not common, as it was originally marketed as a cheap alternative to American markets with sweeter tastes. Higher end varieties do exist, such as Moët & Chandon’s Rosé Imperial.

If you’d like to add a bit of color to your sparkling, or as a base for delightful champagne cocktails such as a Raspberry Fizz, this is a great way to go.

That’s it for today, folks. The Week 2 check-in on Champagne December is here, for those who missed it.

 

Brut, Demi-Sec and Other Meaningless Distinctions After 15 Days Straight of Champagne

Pictured: Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer, and Nicolas Feuillatte champagne bottles

It’s Champagne December, guys! I’m pursuing my dubious goal of filling my glass with champagne this month as easily as one would Coors Light.

This post is part Week 2 check-in, and part irreverent guide to making the most of your local champagne choices. After this much champagne, a bit of extra laissez-faire is necessary in my tips.

The second week has gone smoother than the first. At two weeks, I can claim the increasingly outrageous achievement of enjoying champagne each night for a solid 15 days straight. What was learned in the second week? Mostly that my original estimates were right – even after stocking my liquor cabinet quite well, my original inventory lasted me exactly halfway through the month.

This is not terrible news. I certainly exhausted some of the original choices I’d made, and had a few labels I was ready to perhaps never see again. I also had some that I could re-purchase with new appreciation, and some exorbitantly-priced labels that, after several glasses, I could lean back and think, Wait, that was it?

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As usual, there will be no label or brand dragging, here. My palate is entirely different than yours. Run out and find, and stick to the labels that delight you. The purpose of Champagne December is to be delighted.

Still, if you’re finding yourself overly dismayed with the taste of champagne or other bubbly, the quickest fix may concern its dryness. Too sweet? You may want to instead try Extra Brut or Brut. A word of warning: if you’re mainly consuming American champagne or other sparkling wine produced in the low to mid-end U.S. market, even varieties labeled Brut can come off a little sweeter than their international counterparts. The higher end of the American market or French champagne may suit you better.

If in general, you find most champagne to be too dry, or mouth-puckering with not enough sweetness, yet another word of warning – the majority of modern French champagne is produced on the dry side as Brut, a journey in shifting trends that has taken more than a century. Still, you may be able to find labels in the Sec, Demi-Sec, or even Doux varieties, with a little bit of hunting.

If extensive hunting is not available or out of your pocket book range, you may want to try out popular Italian sparkling instead. Some varieties such as Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante can run quite sweet, indeed. If you want to stick with champagne, another quick hack may be to add a dash of simple syrup or powdered sugar to your glass – but not to your bottle! If you like to live dangerously, go ahead and try it – with the bottle in the sink, preferably, or with a few towels handy. Science is fun.

Now run off, and enjoy your weekend! As always in Champagne December, this post has been brought to you by, and under the influence of a healthy quantity of champagne. Life your best life.

 

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Champagne December, The First Seven Days: I’m Not Hiccuping. You’re Hiccuping.

Pictured: Moet @Chandon Imperial Champagne label, with glass of champagne in background

This blog is intended for adults, so please always Hermit Safely.

Descend with me, into a journey of the outrageous: an entire month devoted to champagne. Welcome to Champagne December. This was my first seven days.

The Goal

While I was not required to enjoy champagne every single day, I realized my curiosity over different champagnes and my excitement to mix my favorite champagne cocktails meant I did indeed end up having champagne every day during the first week. Go big or go home, I suppose.

Shut up liver, you’re fine

The Research

I spent quite a bit of time researching champagne for this expedition. Online. In liquor stores. Contemplating a dozen bottles of sparkling, I watched patient liquor clerks evolve from suspicious to exasperated as I hovered near shelves, comparing labels. I asked questions over French regions that left store owners’ eyes crossed. Still, I made sure to buy a bottle in each store even if I didn’t find what I wanted, to ensure their time and labor was not in vain.

The Stock

I quickly filled the rather modest liquor cabinet I owned, as I calculated just how much champagne it would require to consume it as casually as Coors Light, my goal for the month. I began to stack it atop bookshelves, and in the fridge. When I finished, I realized I truly only had enough to last a little over halfway through the month.

Once while driving, I felt something warm in my pocket and, assuming it was my phone, realized it was my wallet. Thinking of the sheer quantity of champagne I’d purchased so far, I burst out laughing and laughed all the way home.

The First Days: When Bad Champagne Happens to Good People

It happens. Despite the best research and with the best champagne diversification, you’re bound to end up with a label you don’t like. Still, there will be no naming names, here. I will not drag labels. One man’s poison is another man’s… well.

I recall one of the summers I spent at my Granny’s house, as a child. Being the astutely frugal woman life demanded, she dictated that all outfits must be worn at least twice, before qualifying for the wash. However, I was not the brightest child in those days, and slightly spoiled. I wore each outfit two days in a row, mourning the indecency to any who would listen. It never once occurred to me that I could set each outfit aside and return to it later, after wearing other clothes.

The first few days of Champagne December were like this.

Once I realized that one of the brands I’d stocked wouldn’t work for me, I grew determined to prove my versatility. After all, lackluster champagne is easily rolled into many decent champagne cocktails. I actually wouldn’t recommend wasting good champagne on these cocktails. Thus, I focused my efforts on making good use of bad champagne, and drank it exclusively in the form of cocktails.

However, my enthusiasm for the craft of vintage champagne cocktails, such as Death in the Afternoon‘s, Gloria Swanson’s, and French 75’s, along with a rather dismal champagne to launch the month, nearly did me in. I had some true Groundhog’s Day moments, as the one-two punch of stiff champagne cocktails throwing my nights into disarray, combined with the promise of more bland champagne the next day, left me sighing into my pillow each morning.

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The way out is through. I finally realized the futility of giving my time to a champagne that didn’t agree with me. I then had a few theories to test, such as:

How Much Champagne is Too Much In One Night?

Look, folks. As an ex-sailor, I’ve taken out life insurance on my liver long ago. With a rather strong tolerance, I was curious to see if one full bottle of champagne was still enough to do me in as easily as it had a several years before. A full bottle was previously reserved for lazy weekends, where a well-timed nap helped stretched a bottle throughout the day.

The answer is, yes. Not because my tolerance had went through the floor, but via the old adage drilled into me during culinary school and bartending certification – yes, carbonation does indeed speed up the digestive absorption of alcohol. This means in general, a full bottle of champagne can have you walking sideways, whereas several stiff martinis might not. Lesson learned, battle lost.

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So how do you overcome this, if you’re not sharing a bottle with a friend every night, or enjoying individual glasses on the town? With some damn good champagne stoppers, to help preserve your bounty.

Finding My Footing

After ditching the marathon cocktails and the bottle experiment, I took a break by enjoying some of my favorite label. Effervescent and crisp, light and wonderful, it reminded me of what I’d originally embarked upon – sensual enjoyment of one of my favorite beverages as a way of living my best damn life. It’s the end of 2017, afterall. Though it may not seem that way, we’ve survived a lot.

Live your best damn lives, people. I’ll see you next week.

Champagne December: Live Your Best Life.

Pictured: glass of champagne.

Many of you prefer your champagne in flutes, but I love a good vintage coup. You do you.

 

 

2017 has aged like a grease fire.

I’ve taken a notable break from documenting my cocktail and culinary adventures over the past year or so. During this time, I’ve experimented with many things, including, most recently, an extended no junk, no booze diet. When it completed, I came to one conclusion.

Champagne is delicious.

Thus, I decided to dedicate an entire month this year to its deliciousness. Its sumptuousness. For 31 days, I will keep my cabinet stocked with champagne. I’ll reach for champagne like I would a goddamned Bud Light. 

Let’s stick a pin in that thought and rewind a little further, to the beginning of 2017, when I idly stumbled across a profile of Queen Elizabeth II’s drinking habits. They included this snippet:

According to Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s cousin, HM’s alcohol intake never varies. She takes a gin and Dubonnet before lunch, with a slice of lemon and a lot of ice. She will take wine with lunch and a dry Martini and a glass of champagne in the evening.

The Queen is imbibing a glass of champagne before bed, as a matter of routine. A drink whose connotations largely imply decadence and celebration is treated with the same attention as the ritual of brushing one’s teeth. A titillating factoid at first, this anecdote lodged in my mind as I navigated through the ensuing months, resurfacing in a question that refused to sink:

Why am I not living my best life?

I can see that there’s already someone in the audience raising their hand, ready to decry the economic barriers to living like a damn Queen. You’re reading me wrong. Let’s deep dive into this.

Champagne has, over time, built up a well-deserved role as the designated beverage for celebration. For achievement. To congratulate yourself or others when some great hurdle has been vaulted. It is not only champagne we treat this way. Our human minds, seeking order, rationale, and justification, are constantly divvying up life’s pleasures into separate categories: Guilty pleasure. Secret indulgence. Major holiday. Special occasion. Reward.

Thus, for a large portion of the population, champagne has become the drink to toast a small subset of events in our lives. Got the job, a promotion? Champagne. Wedding, anniversary? Champagne. New house? New baby?! Break out the cigars, the champagne! Let’s celebrate!

Indeed.

We create a moment where it becomes acceptable to indulge in a true indulgence, to celebrate and briefly cherish ourselves. Yet on a regular Wednesday, when your only accomplishment was commuting home in rush hour without leaning on your horn and screaming, when you didn’t break down over the latest news, or burn dinner while juggling literally everything else? You crack open your usual cold one. Pour that glass of red, or white. Your usual martini, rum and coke, gin and tonic, whiskey neat.

A typical day, its colors well-washed and watered out, fades to black and white.

Let’s return to the idea of champagne. Champagne is not a drink so much as it’s an idea of celebration, and permission for self-celebration. Of self-care. By reframing champagne, as the Queen has done, as a treat one deserves on a nightly basis, we too can reframe the extraordinary into the ordinary, and as a side effect, raise our personal standards of self love and self care. Of what we as individuals deserve on a regular basis, without rolling over and performing a trick for it. The goal posts for exceptionalism will keep moving. We can ensure that even if no one else concurs, we dish that loving attention upon ourselves.

Champagne December isn’t just champagne. It’s all those other items or actions squirreled away in your mind for special occasions only. That little black dress, or amazing suit you’d shrug into, if you only had a somewhere to go. That recipe, those flowers you pass in the market everyday (but who buys themselves flowers for no reason?), that restaurant. That vinyl record, that playlist. Those heels, that tube of Givenchy Le Rouge lipstick that’s far too outrageous to wear to just work, and yet sits aging in your makeup box. That project you’ve been waiting to tackle, the book you’ve meant to start, the promotion talk you’ve been stalling with your boss.

For every box you haven’t checked because you’re waiting until you’ve accomplished another box, this is your Champagne December.

If you’re still looking for a reason to justify Champagne December, you’ve got one: it’s the end of 2017. You fucking made it. Live your best life.

 

As always advised on Distracted Hermit, be sure to hermit safely.

 

Fruit Syrups for Cocktails.

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Homemade Berry Syrups

Fruit sale. Let’s make two syrups: Raspberry and blackberry, excellent for cocktails such as the Belmont (gin, cream, raspberry syrup). Quick recipe: 2 lbs of fruit in a quart of water, strain out fruit and toss, add 2 cups of sugar and boil it down to the thickness you want, skimming constantly. The color comes out very rich. I like to store it in old brandy bottles. Be sure to keep it in the fridge.

Grocery Shop Fails. How to Make a Frosty Martini.

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Grocery Mission: Fail

Grocery shop fails. Don’t mind my frosty martini. I’m baffled by how many accounts I’ve read of people, regular and celebrities alike, trying to invent new ways to make the coldest martini. Here’s how: Measure your vermouth and gin in two separate mixer glasses and stick in freezer for 20 minutes or a little longer – just under the freeze threshold of the vermouth. Mix together, stir gently and serve in a martini glass. Don’t James Bond shake, for heaven’s sake.

Weekend Reading.

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Weekend Reading

Weekend reading. I ordered a reprint of the 1946 edition of The Stork Club Bar Book, and it is absolutely delightful. There are over 17 pages of just morning cocktails, with serious notes to bartenders about which to serve for particular customer ailments. Also picked up a history of gin book on my Kindle along with The Joy of Drinking by the eloquent and highly quotable Barbara Holland, my favorite essayist.