The Champagne Cocktail: The Chorus Girl’s Milk


KIMBERLY VOSS, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She blogs at womenspagehistory.com. She is the author of The Food Section (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and a co-author of Mad Men & Working Women (Peter Lang, 2014)

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Photo credit: Lance Speere

In going through newspaper cookbooks, I came across numerous recipes for champagne cocktails. They were usually designed for a crowd in the 1950s and 1960s versions. Often, there were also Champagne punch versions. It has a long history – dating back to the mid-1800s.

One of my favorite Champagne cocktail recipes was written by Grace Hartley, the food editor of the Atlanta Journal from the 1940s through the 1980s. (To give you an idea of how serious a journalist Grace was, she got married at the courthouse during her lunch hour because she was on a deadline.) She collected her top food and beverage recipes and published them in her Grace Hartley’s Southern Cookbook: Over Forty Years of Recipes From the Atlanta Journal.

Hartley arrived in Atlanta with a home economics degree from the Georgia College for Women in Milledgeville. Her first job was with a social service agency during the Depression and she taught social workers how to plan meals for families.

Grace.Hartley.Atlanta

She spent more than 40 years writing about food for the Journal. She had one of the first electric ranges in Atlanta, she also had perhaps the first microwave, a significantly large piece of equipment that stood five feet tall with a conventional oven underneath. Her recipe for the punch seemed to match the grandness of her appliances!

Grace Hartley’s Champagne Punch

  • 3 quarts fresh peach slices
  • 1 fifth light rum
  • 1 fifth brandy
  • 1 quart soda water
  • 2 quarts strong tea
  • 2 quarts champagne

Let peaches stand overnight covered with brandy. When ready to serve, place a cake of ice in punch bowl and pour in tea, rum, soda water, and champagne over peaches and brandy. This recipe makes 40 three-ounce servings.

Culinary historians attribute the original Champagne cocktail to Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bartender’s Guide. It consisted of champagne, sugar, Angostura bitters and a lemon twist, and is relatively simple to recreate. It’s also an easy way to jazz up a relatively cheap bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine. Drop a sugar cube into a chilled champagne flute, splash it with a few shakes of bitters, add the champagne, and drop in the twist of lemon.

Today, Champagne cocktails are commonly made with Angostura bitters. Its history goes back to 1824 as a tonic for stomach problems developed by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert. The bitters were initially produced in the Venezuela town of Angostura. (That town is now known as Ciudad Bolivar.)

By 1875 the family business moved to Trinidad where it was run by the sons of Dr. Siergert. One of Siegert’s sons exhibited the bitters in England in 1862 where they were mixed with gin for a new cocktail.

Grace.Hartley

Angostura earned a medal at the 1873 World Far in Vienna. Today, the profile of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria appears on some of the bottles’ distinctive ill-fitted labels.

By 1908, the Angostura Bitters Drink Guide was printed. That promotional guide was reprinted in 2008. The following year, there was a reported bitters shortage. Angostura bitters are produced exclusively by the House of Angostura in Trinadad and the shortage was caused by a switch in bottling manufacturers

At times, the bitters have been used in food. At the 1953 food editors meeting (an event initiated by Grace Hartley) the women sampled French Toast Angostura. Miami News food editor Mary Crum wrote of the dish: “Bitters for breakfast? Unusual to say the least, but you’ll find it imparts an exquisite flavor.”

Champagne cocktails are also called the “Chorus Girl’s Milk” and have moved in and out of style over time. In the classic movie Casablanca, Victor Laszlo and Captain Renault ordered Champagne cocktails. In An Affair to Remember, Deborah Kerr orders a Champagne cocktail. They most commonly reappear around New Year’s Eve.

Some of the variations of the Champagne mixed drinks include Champagne cobbler, Champagne julep, and Champagne sour. There was an increase in popularity of Champagne cocktails when Baz Luhrmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby was released in Spring 2013.

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