Grape & Grain

How to toast New Year in Hong Kong with champagne cocktails – including Ernest Hemingway’s deadly concoction

Mandarin Oriental beverage manager Agung Prabowo shows how to make champagne the star of your New Year’s celebrations with classic cocktails

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 6:10pm

Champagne and champagne cocktails are a New Year’s Eve tradition, and plenty of bubbles will be poured at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong to welcome 2017.

Mixing some special recipes in M Bar on the 25th floor of the hotel will be beverage manager Agung Prabowo, who in his previous position as bar manager of the Island Shangri-La’s Lobster Bar steered that venue into 27th place on the World’s 50 Best Bars List, and fourth in Asia’s 50 Best.

Prabowo, who began his career at the Mandarin Oriental Jakarta and spent five years at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Central, has been re-engaged by the group to move the original Mandarin’s bars into that league – starting with M.

The secret of a good champagne cocktail, according to Prabowo, is not to overpower the champagne. He is a fan of such classics as the French 75, and the Bellini, which a purist would make with Prosecco but which he makes with champagne and fresh peach juice rather than the more usual peach purée.

“For me the French 75 is the best way to enjoy champagne in a cocktail – cognac, sugar, bitters and then the champagne itself. Then there’s the Mimosa, and Black Velvet, but the dangerous one is Death in the Afternoon,” he says.

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There are several cocktails associated in one way or another with Ernest Hemingway, but this one – which the author, with his accustomed flair for self-promotion, named after his then recent 1932 treatise on bullfighting – he is believed to have created.

It was recorded in So Red the Nose or Breath in the Afternoon, a book of cocktail recipes with contributions by famous authors, published in 1935. Hemingway is the best known of them today, but among the other amateur mixologists were Edgar Rice Burroughs, Oliver La Farge, Irving Stone and Alexander Woollcott.

Hemingway’s instructions were simple: “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.”

Prabowo has taken Death in the Afternoon as the basis for a more complex creation which he calls an Absinthe Cup.

He makes the drink with ¾ of an ounce of absinthe, ¾ of an ounce of orgeat, and one ounce of 18-year-old Chivas Regal scotch whisky – included partly as a tip of the hat to Scotland, where New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay, is the big party of the year, and partly because of its vanilla character.

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Also contributing a touch of vanilla are one ounce of milk shake mixture – a little milk and a little vanilla ice cream – and a garnish of freshly grated tonka bean which floats on the surface of the drink.

All the ingredients except the champagne and tonka bean are shaken, strained into a glass, and then topped up with champagne and garnished.

“It’s quite a complex drink. Says Prabowo. “You pour the champagne slowly down the twisted stem of the mixing spoon, and the drink then acquires a layered effect. A lot of people don’t know about tonka beans, but you could also use a dusting of vanilla, or a little lemon zest.”

Prabowo is also using Chivas 18 in his interpretation of the Prince of Wales cocktail, the original recipe for which is attributed to the man who would become Britain’s King Edward VII on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.

He is still the longest serving Prince of Wales, having received the title in December 1841 and retained it for the next 60 years. The current Prince of Wales has now been heir apparent to the throne for slightly longer than his great-great-grandfather, but was not created Prince of Wales until 1958, and so has not yet broken his record.

Prince Edward’s recipe is believed to have called for champagne, rye whisky, Angostura bitters, Maraschino liqueur, sugar, a small piece of pineapple and a garnish of lemon peel.

The drink has traditionally been served in a silver cup, but Prabowo uses a coupe glass, and in addition to the substitution of Scotch whisky for rye, roasts the pineapple.

The drink is relatively simple and quick to make. All the ingredients except the champagne are muddled in a shaker, strained into the glass, topped up with champagne, and garnished with a lemon twist and a cherry.

Champagne cocktails will be served in most of the better bars around town on New Year’s Eve, but particularly stylish places to sip them include The Bar at The Peninsula, the Champagne Bar of the Grand Hyatt, and Prabowo’s former place of work, the Lobster Bar.

M Bar, 25/F Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central, tel: 2825 4002

Lobster Bar and Grill, 6/F Island Shangri-La, Supreme Court Road, Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2820 8560

The Bar, 1/F The Peninsula hotel, 22 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2920 6773

Champagne Bar, Lobby, Grand Hyatt, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai tel: 2584 7722