There's no cocktail better suited to The Little Pilot than the champagne cocktail. It's a classic, it's French, and it's delicious. Mix yourself one of these, sip it on a porch swing and count the stars.
- Sugar Cube
- Angostura Bitters
- Champagne, well-chilled
Put the sugar cube in a very pretty glass. Splash it with three or four dashes of Angostura bitters, then add champagne and garnish with a twist of lemon peel. C'est bon!
That's how we would make a traditional champagne cocktail, but, because The Little Pilot is a Sandbox Theatre show, we can't leave it at that. Any Sandbox production is always at least as much about how the story is told as what the story is. We need to change how we put this drink together.
First, invite some friends over to figure this out. It's best if at least a few of them are musicians. Maybe a dancer. Warm up. I'll start: Zip!
Now, the champagne. This is a good idea. The Little Pilot is inspired by the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator, adventurer, Romantic and author of The Little Prince. A man whose path "was paved with stars." I remind the group of the (not-at-all-true-but-that’s-okay) story of that good old monk, Dom Pérignon, who, when he discovered champagne, ran up to where the other monks were practicing their monk crafts and said, "My brothers, I have tasted the stars!"
"But champagne..." someone, probably the dancer, complains, "it's so expensive." Someone else, who's probably really good at yoga, says, "Could we substitute another sparkling wine? Like a prosecco?" Then I say, "Absolutely not." Because I can be kind of a dick about certain things. N’est-ce pas?
"You know the real problem with champagne?" asks an intense young man who wears glasses that I'm not sure are absolutely necessary. "It's not dangerous enough." He has a point. The Little Pilot has people several feet above the floor of the Southern Theater swinging, twisting, pushing, pulling, flipping, ooh la la! "This cocktail needs danger!" glasses guy exclaims. "Zut alors! Champagne won't cut it."
I think of a few evenings during which champagne and I courted plenty of danger, let me tell you, but by the time I think of something I am willing to share with the others, the group has been brainstorming more dangerous than champagne alternatives. In pairs, they’ve taken a few minutes to sketch out various possibilities, improvised brief sketches which they’ve presented to each other and as a group they’ve chosen to replace the champagne with gin. C'est la vie.
"I really like dashes, but is Angostura really the only thing worth dashing?" asks the guy with a beard who’s been mapping out our ideas on big sheets of paper up on the wall. As the "Project Lead" - I've made myself the project lead on this cocktail thing which I hope is comme il faut - as Project Lead, I take it on myself to bring in 20 different dashables – a selection of bitters and liqueurs. We experiment. And you know what's nice? Maraschino liqueur. It's French, which we lost when we swapped out the champagne, there's something charmingly evocative of childhood about the scent, and it's good with the gin.
But it leads us to the next problem. The maraschino liqueur is sweet, so the sugar cube is now too much! Quelle horreur! Everyone acknowledges this except the percussionist, who likes the sweetness, but is totally willing to go a different way if that's what everyone else thinks.
And then a stroke of inspiration! The members of the ensemble, almost at the same instant, decide to go in the opposite direction and replace the sugar cube with lemon juice! Cuisinart!
With a little more experimentation and vigorous shaking over ice, we devise pleasing proportions for each element of the drink and strain our new champagne cocktail into a chilled martini glass.
- 2.5 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 2 or 3 dashes of maraschino liqueur.
We keep the lemon twist because some things are just je ne sais quoi.
Et voilà! According to "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" our Little Pilot cocktail is identical to a drink called The Aviation!
Isn't that surprising, delightful and well worth trying?