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September 27, 2008

Of champagne, Angostura Bitters and sugar cubes


I got the following e-mail from the owner of the Grand Cru Wine Bar in Belvedere Square after my post on having a champagne cocktail. Now I'm even more intrigued.

It's just the kind of day that cries out for a champagne cocktail.

If I had Angostura Bitters.  (I wonder if you go to a liquor store or a place like Eddie's to buy them?)

If I had a bottle of champagne.

I do have sugar cubes. They are one of those things that I shouldn't spend the money on but do. I wonder how they make them. Or rather, I don't now because I just Googled them and here's what I found in Wikipedia: ...

Suppliers of sugarcubes make them by mixing sugar crystals with sugar syrup. Jakub Kryštof Rad invented sugarcubes in 1841 in the Austrian Empire (what is now the Czech Republic).

Still, this doesn't say how they get in those neat little cubes. Do they put them in molds? Or cut them with very sharp blades?

Anyway, here's Nelson Carey's e-mail:

It was great to read about Champagne Cocktails on your blog.  The drink has been a staple at Grand Cru since the beginning.  We make ours by marinating sugar cubes in a mixture of Angostura & orange bitters.  When ready to make the drink, drop two cubes into a champagne flute & fill with Champagne.  No fruit garnish as the oil in the citrus will quell the bubbles in the cocktail.  It is the ONLY cocktail I know of that changes flavor (in a good way) as you drink it.

(It changes flavor as the sugar dissolves and the bitters add their herbal notes.) 

(Photo of Mary Beth Marsden and her drink of choice, a champagne cocktail at the Ambassador. Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 1:49 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Wine and Spirits


You can get two different kinds of bitters at Wells Liquors:

I've always been intrigued by the other bitters, but have no experience with them.

Imagining you cutting up sugar cubes with a razor blade. Very Scarface. Aren't champagne cocktails synonymous with nasty hangovers? I guess there's a difference between your drinking style and, say, Faye Dunaway in Barfly.

It's like Mary Beth is toasting to me.

I was always intriqued by Vincent Gardenias character(Cher's father) in MOONSTRUCK adds sugar cubes to his champagne. Have never tried it...and bitters adds another element.
Prefer my champagne with cassis

I believe I bought my last (and so far, only) bottle of Agustora Bitters at Giant. They have a little section with drink mixes, Margarita salt, etc.

If I recall correctly, champagne cocktails were what the "dancers" at gentlemens clubs would order when a patron wanted to chat with them. Of course, the price was extravagant.

that was a long time ago and I just remember from friends ordering them.


Hey Owl Meat Gazing,

You are right about that. And she looks right cute too. Haven't seen Channel 2 in awhile.

Love bitters, and will occasionally use them in one of their original ways, off a teaspoon to quell an unsettled stomach.

I've often wondered what lobbyist got permission for Angostura bitters to be sold at grocery stores. It's alcohol content is pretty high, close to whiskey range as I recall.

I have been known to mix up a Sazarac or two in my day, which calls for Peychaud's bitters, a very different critter than Angostura or orange bitters. I get mine at the place next to Whole Foods in Mt. Washington.

Nelson: I knew your mom decades ago at Old St. Paul's, and she taught me boatloads of important stuff as I learned my craft. Her sidekick Maize now works in the office I work in.

I still have a box of sugar cubes I picked up when I found myself with a bottle of Absinthe.

Ahhh, Absinthe: the marriage of Sambuca and Scope. The sugar cube may helped a touch with the taste, but I never did get the turn of the century trip I was anticipating.

Wow. I'm impressed, though. Maybe that's next for me. Although maybe not. Not really fond of Scope. EL

RoCK - I think your description of Absinthe is accurate. HATED it! And, didn't even get the promised "green fairy"!

Giving away age related info here, but I remember getting my polio booster on a sugar cube. I wanted seconds!

Until I discovered gin gives me a monumental headache, I used to enjoy gin & bitters, which is very popular in the UK.

In "Moonstruck," they were probably drinking Asti Spumante, the Italian sparkling wine. I never did understand why they dropped in sugar's already REALLY sweet. Whatever..."that's amore"!

Dottie -- According to the screenplay for Moonstruck (or, at least, a version of the screenplay I found online here, Loretta orders a split of Moët at a liquor store early in the film, then goes home and uses it to make the champagne cocktails that she and her father, Cosmo, drink as she annnounces her engagement to Johnny Cammareri.

MD Canon in IA, I was at my local Giant this afternoon and yes, they DO have Angostura Bitters. Six-Ninety-Nine the bottle. I assume it is allowed because, while high in alcohol, the taste is such that nobody with taste buds could drink enough to get any sort of buzz. Same as the cooking wines and rubbing alcohol. All alcoholic but "denatured" to eliminate (or at least minimize) the chance for abuse. Probably more alcohol in cough syrups. Geritol used to be famous for the alcohol in it; that's what put us geezers to sleep.

Ahhh, Absinthe: the marriage of Sambuca and Scope.

I think you're being overly nice about it. I like anything that tastes like licorice, but Absinthe is just plain nasty even with a sugar cube!

And the only green fairy I saw was my money flying away.

Geritol used to be famous for the alcohol in it

And who could forget the great scene in the old I Love Lucy with the Vitameatavegamin.

Hmpstd, I was thinking of the last scene in which the whole family gathers around the dining room table to drink a toast to the engagement of Loretta and Ronnie Cammareri.

Dottie -- the screenplay's final scene refers to champagne (along with sugar cubes and bitters), not asti spumante. Moreover, I can't believe that a family with such evident interest in good food and drink would start with Moët and end up with Martini & Rossi or something of that ilk.


Rosebud, dear, is that you hiding under another name? Have some more Geritol!

Yes, it was me. My computer kept erasing my regular info for some reason without me noticing.

I think I'm completely back now.

I just came across this recipe to make your own orange bitters.

I wouldn't have paid attention to this if we hadn't discussed it here.

I'm not sure where to get gentian extract, but my herb book tells me that it's good for the whole digestive process.

Have I missed it or, despite the several related posts, our Glorious Leader has either, not made the Champagne Cocktail or not told us about it. (Is her mind befuddled from over indulgence? I suddenly have a picture of Glorious Leader throwing chipped crockery at squirel nests.)

RtSO said: Have I missed it or, despite the several related posts, our Glorious Leader has either, not made the Champagne Cocktail or not told us about it.

She's probably waiting for me to report before risking her own champagne. :-)

I didn't find the champagne cocktail to be awful, but neither did I find it compelling.

The sugar cubes were going to take days to dissolve in the cold champagne (in a tall flute glass). Not being that patient, I ended up using the back end of a chopstick to muddle it.

I think Manhattans are a much better way to use Anostura bitters.

While I could compile an exhaustive list of my failures, living at Tindeco wasn't one. I was living in Connecticut and didn't feel like spending a week looking at 150 rowhouses so it did for a while. My love of corduroy suits is however, a complete moral failure.

I think you'll find that Angostura bitters contains no actual angostura bar, just a lot a corn syrup and flavorings. However, if you squeeze me I am delightfully natually bitter, but not soo good for digestion.

I really don't understand why anyone would ruin perfectly good champagne or bourbon by making a cocktail with either. (yeah, JMc! why?)

Owl - the purple corduroy is my fav. Swoosh swoosh swoosh swoosh here he comes with more Manchego....

Agreed BG. If you have good champagne drink it, it have have bad champagne leave it.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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