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Death in the Afternoon: Hemingway’s Ode to Absinthe & Champagne

Pictured: vintage cocktail glass of absinthe and champagne on a desk.

Absinthe topped with champagne, in the Hemingway fashion.

A day off work is great opportunity to deep-dive into a decadent, beguiling champagne cocktail for Champagne December.

For our next feature this month, which we’ve dedicated to self care in the form of playful indulges such as champagne, we’ll be covering Death in the Afternoon, a cocktail reputedly invented by Earnest Hemingway.

This cocktail is featured in an ultra-rare book of cocktails from the 1930s, titled So Red The Nose or Breath in The Afternoon by prominent authors of the time, including Hemingway, and has these instructions provided by Ernest:

Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.

Some later recipes also suggest floating the absinthe upon the champagne, as some brands of absinthe can accomplish this feat. Either way, three or five of these potent drinks should leave you in quite a state. Here’s the original recipe within its anecdote:

Pictured: scan of original recipe from out of print edition

Original recipe in So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, Cocktail Recipes by 30 Leading Authors. Source.

Absinthe was legalized once more in the United States in 2007, so we can now enjoy this recipe in its full splendor. With a quality absinthe, topping it with champagne (or any fluid with a higher water content than pure grain alcohol, for that matter), should result in an immediate cloudiness.

 

Pictured: vintage cocktail glass of absinthe and champagne in front of a window.

Quality absinthe, when mixed with higher water content liquids, should cloud.

Whether it will also have a greenish tint relies upon your type of absinthe.We’ve invested in Kübler Absinthe, which boasts as having been produced in the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland since 1863, a region known for its absinthe production. Kübler is a Blanche, or la Bleue absinthe, is bottled immediately after distillation and reduction, without the additional steeping of extra herbs, which would result in a Verte (“green”) absinthe. Many cheaper productions of absinthe will artificially color their absinthe to achieve this vivid green, and the style you choose is ultimately up to you.

 

Pictured: Bottle of Kübler Absinthe Superieure absinthe on a desk.

Kübler Absinthe Superieure, a la Bleue or Blanche absinthe without the green tint.

So how does it taste? Having created this cocktail with at least four different brands of absinthe over the years, most notable is a pleasant tingling that will fade to soft numbness in your mouth. The absinthe does a fine job drowning the effervescence of champagne, so if you’re looking for a bubbly presentation, you will be disappointed.

Also noteworthy is how the combination of the two ingredients produces a distinct salt on the palate, which may take some getting used to. To offset the shock of these flavors, many recommend adding a cube of sugar or bitters to the mixture. Some may even substitute the absinthe with Pernod, or another in the pastis family.

Whichever way you choose to go, this is a fine cocktail suitable for languishing through the afternoon into the evening.

First Bloody Mary.

12006107_10206889634176701_8572738305941977460_nMy First Bloody Mary Recipe

I’ve probably lost the last of any virtuous qualities, because when I opened my eyes this morning, my first thought was, “I should fry some bacon so I can try out some Bloody Mary recipes.” So here’s my first homemade Bloody Mary, garnished with bacon, heirloom tomato, shrimp and a motherfuckin’ fried oyster. Breakfast is served.

Coquilles St. Jacques & a Ramos Fizz

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Coquilles St. Jacques & a Ramos Fizz

Coquilles St Jacques (scallops gratined in cream and white wine). I had some egg whites left over, so I whipped up a Ramos Fizz, made famous in New Orleans and defined as follows in the 1946 Stork Club Bar Book: 2oz gin, juice of half a lemon, 1 oz cream, 1 egg white, and 2 dashes of orange flower water (substituted orange bitters) and topped with a little seltzer. Feeling very New Orleans lately.

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.

Crawfish and a Belmont.

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A bit of cajun crawfish and andouille sausage in reduced wine sauce and a creamy Belmont gin cocktail made with homemade raspberry syrup. The most I’ve cooked in a week. My fridge is a barren desert. My recipe for a Belmont: a shot of gin, 1/2 a shot of raspberry syrup and 1 shot of heavy whipping cream, shaken vigorously on ice and strained into a champagne coup.

Martini Mod: The Alexandre.

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The Alexandre

If you know your martini lore, you know that circa 1906, a dash of orange bitters was part of the standard recipe of a classic 3:1 dry gin martini. I swapped the orange bitters today with a 1/4 ounce of Grand Marnier (French orange cognac liqueur) and it is fantastic. I call it the Alexandre, in honor of Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle. No olives needed in this recipe, though in a few days I’ll be trying the castelvetrano olive flambé recipe I found.

Raspberry Fizz.

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Still one of my favorite labors of love, cocktail-wise: A Raspberry Fizz, this time made with French Chambord topped with champagne. The lovely creaminess comes from a raw egg white that is separately dry shaken (no ice) with lemon juice and powdered sugar (to chemically cook) before being added to a Chambord-lined coup glass (my mod) and topped with champagne. Please note: if you’re not comfortable using raw eggs for cocktails, pasteurized egg whites (and yolks) can be found in any decent grocery store.

 

In Pursuit of the Perfect Martini Glass.

In Pursuit of the Perfect Martini Glass.
 
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Martinis. This is a good glass – short, soft, not birdbath sized. It was hell finding a decent glass, that wasn’t too tall or with razor sharp edges (Bormioli), etched with tacky frosted patterns (Mikasa – really??), painted and nearly unwashable (Etsy), painted with lips or encrusted with jewels (I’m looking at you, Lolita), crazy overpriced (Riedel), or with zigzag stems or in packs of 15 (Libby). I found this glass AT THE DOLLAR STORE. There you go.

Now, Nik’s Retro Dirty as Hell Perfect Martini: Wash interior of glass with sweet vermouth, dump out. 1 1/2 ounces of gin, 1/2 ounce of dry vermouth stirred with ice and strained into glass, 2 olives, a dash of orange bitters (from vintage recipe) and a nice healthy splash of the olive juice. I know, I have no olive picks yet. Those come Friday. Stainless steel, baby.