Not long after winning World War II and losing control of Parliament, Winston Churchill quipped that he “could not live without champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.” (A similar, but undocumented, quote was also attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, another man who knew a lot about victory and defeat.) 5780 has been a year full of victories and defeats, of mere survival and painful losses. So, when the editors of The Jewish Link asked me to come up with a “honey themed” cocktail for Rosh Hashanah, with Churchill’s quip in mind, it seemed to me that a honey and champagne cocktail would be most appropriate.
My inspiration for this cocktail was the French 75, a mixture of champagne, sugar, gin and lemon juice. Named for the French 75-millimeter artillery piece that played such an important role in the Western Front of World War I, the drink’s origins are a bit obscure. While gin-based ‘champagne cups’ were not uncommon in the 19th century, in its current form, and with its current name, the French 75 seems to be one of the few classic cocktails to actually have been born in the speakeasies of the 1920s. No doubt some wag of a bartender in one of the tonier speaks (the down-market sort would not have an illegal stash of champagne on hand) decided to name it for artillery, because like its namesake it can really hit its mark in a (figuratively) lethal manner.
In order to create this new cocktail, I started by replacing the sugar with honey syrup. However, as I wanted the honey to play a more assertive role in the new drink than sugar does in the French 75, I raised the ratio of honey to wine. Next, I had to raise the quantity of lemon juice, so that the increased citric acid would balance the additional sweetness of the honey. After a very pleasant hour of tinkering and quaffing, I finally struck on the right recipe, and the Dvash 72 was born.
L’chaim tovim ul’shalom!
Dvash 72 (for 1 serving)
2 tsp. honey syrup (see note below)
½ tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup London Dry gin
Brut sparkling wine
Lemon peel twist as garnish
Into a cocktail shaker add the gin, lemon juice and honey syrup, with plenty of ice. Stir with a barspoon or other long thin spoon until well chilled (do not shake, as too much of the ice will melt, over-diluting the drink) then use the shaker’s top to strain into a chilled champagne flute. Fill the balance of the flute with sparkling wine. Stir gently, and garnish with a lemon peel twist.
To make the honey syrup, fill a heatproof mug, or similar vessel, with boiling water, in order to heat the mug. Then pour out the water and replace with equal parts of honey and boiling water. Stir until well combined. Let cool before use. If kept refrigerated, this syrup should stay for about a week. For the honey, I would recommend something very floral. I used heather honey; I think chestnut honey would also work well in this cocktail. If you want to stick with more readily available varietals, try orange blossom or wildflower honeys. I would avoid buckwheat and other molasses-like honeys in this cocktail.
For the gin, I like the classic “London Dry” profile. I used Tanqueray, but Bombay or Beefeater would also work well. As an alternative one could make the cocktail with genever (Dutch gin). The maltiness of genever plays well with honey and champagne, and will result in a softer, more mellow cocktail.
While I refer to this as a “champagne cocktail,” when selecting the wine, I would avoid actual champagne. Kosher champagne comes at far too dear of a price to be consumed in cocktails. Rather I would go for a Cava from Spain or a Prosecco from Italy. Freixenet’s kosher Brut Cava is what I used when compounding this cocktail, but there are a number of good choices. Just make sure to select a very dry brut wine.
Gamliel has been writing about kosher food, wine and cocktails in newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years. He lives with his wife, Jessica, in Silver Spring, Maryland.