Ice Cube Tower and Pineapple Sticks--It Must Be a Charles Baker Drink

Sometimes I wonder how much Charles Baker really knew about cocktails. Sure, he drank big and a lot. But quantity does not magically equate to quality. A lifetime of poor drinking choices does not necessarily point toward someone becoming a sophisticated drinker. In my most romantic moments, I like to imagine Mr. Baker a discerning drinker, a sort of proto cocktail enthusiast, who tried everything in spite of, well, what trying everything entails. Perhaps he even understood that sometimes the value of a cocktail experiment is not always expressed in the final expression of flavors but instead in the eye-opening experience of moving away from what is mainstream or even expected. Sometimes a cocktail is a journey and the destination is just one of the unknowns, like the weather.

Treading in Mr. Baker's footsteps is not without its failures or surprises. This tends to create suspense, or at least hesitation. More often than not a simple glance at the list of ingredients stirs an involuntary shudder. The champagne cocktails have been more of a safe haven, though none of them have been a walk in the park, either. The flavors in this last one are not particularly challenging, but the Champagne Cocktail No. III does not come without obstacles:
"Choose a large tapering champagne glass; inside of this build a tower of 4 ice cubes, crown it with a lump of sugar saturated with 4 dashes of orange bitters. Against the sides of the glass lean 2 sticks of ripe fresh pineapple, encircle the tower with a spiral of green lime peel, and fill with well chilled champagne, medium dry, and not too acid in type. Now as the crowning gesture carefully float on 1 tbsp of cointreau"
Even written on the page, the Jockey Club Cocktail blows right past difficult straight to impossible--at least in terms of my skill set. The idea of making a tower of ice cubes in a glass topped with a bitters-soaked sugar cube seems challenging enough without considering the pineapple spears. Don't even get me started on the lime twist.

The first problem I discovered rather quickly--I do not have tapering champagne glasses, only flutes and coupes. At first, this seemed unimportant--glassware is usually the least painful substitution. However, my decision to proceed instantly proved fatal. While a coupe wouldn't work because of its demure height, a champagne flute is equally flawed because of its narrow opening. While it was technically possible to stack four small ice cubes with the help of a bar spoon, as soon as I inserted one stick of pineapple, the entire structure immediately collapsed. Trying to get the lime twist to wrap around the flimsy "structure" required more patience than I could muster, and perhaps tweezers.

The folly of attempting to balance a slowly disintegrating sugar cube atop my column was instantly clear, so I opted for simple syrup and bitters instead. But as soon as I poured in the syrup, the ice structure collapsed. I understood then that this was inevitable. Ice floats. Only then did  I understand how unimportant that tower really was--the ice was simply a vehicle for creating the pineapple and lime garnish. Though it was a eureka moment, I was less than amused. Had I grasped this fact earlier, I would have spent less time on the ice and more time positioning the lime twist. Alas, with my ice melting, I added the bitters, champagne and float. I only hoped that the flavors would be blind to my poor craftsmanship.

"Jockey Club Champagne Cocktail" (as adapted)

4 small square ice cubes
2 pineapple spears
1 lime twist
1 teaspoon simple syrup
4 dashes orange bitters
6 oz champage (demi-sec)
1/2 oz Cointreau

Build an ice-cube column flanked by pineapple spears.* Curl a long lime twist around the structure.** Add syrup, bitters, and then champagne. Carefully float Cointreau.

Notes on Ingredients:  I used a 1:1 simple syrup, Regan's orange bitters, Graham Beck demi-sec sparkling wine. Also I substituted Clement Creole Shrub for the Cointreau on a lark, thinking the rum base would be a nice addition in the fruity environment.

* Good luck. Just remember that creating the garnish is the point, not where the ice ends up.
**Using a champagne glass with a larger opening will be key here unless you really want to use tweezers. Also, length may come in handy--I would recommend a crusta-style treatment.

Despite the procedural missteps, this champagne cocktail did turn out quite nicely. The demi-sec champagne wasn't as sweet as I'd feared and in general seemed to contribute a pleasant fruitiness. The pineapple's flavor became more significant over time, as expected. I can't help but wonder if substituting pineapple syrup for the sugar cube-pineapple spear business would yield similar results. Perhaps then the pineapple flavor would prove too intense, but boy would it be easier. Well, something to consider for future masochism.

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