Adapted from the Savoy Cocktail book and often subject to dramatic variation, the Chicago cocktail is a Champagne drink that—due to its unusually spirit forward nature—is appropriate for more than one day a year. While at first glance it shares some similarities with the Champagne cocktail, it carries a much larger dose of brandy, which sets it apart from the average light and brunchy sparkling affair. Instead, the result is a rare instance when sparkling feels simply like a component: the center of the drink, as opposed to a great many family members that taste like Champagne with stuff in it. The nose is full of fruity grape and orange, along with strong boozy whiffs from the brandy. Up front the sip delivers a hint of acidity along with the bubbly texture of sparkling wine, followed by a lot of orange liqueur and more fruitiness from the brandy. Overall, the Chicago is enigmatic and benefits from attention to detail; too much sparkling will over dilute and change the character of the drink. After much experimentation, we came upon our preferred ratio, including an increased dose of orange liqueur and defined measure of bubbly.
Some versions call for sugaring the rim of the glass. To do so, prepare it by rubbing a lemon slice around the rim and dipping it in superfine sugar. It can be served on the rocks in a double old-fashioned glass or straight up in a coupe, flute, or cocktail glass. Make sure to taste this drink before serving it, as the sweetness level of both the sparkling and orange liqueur can dramatically affect the balance of the drink. A dry curacao will probably require extra sweetening, and is likely not the best choice here. A fun alteration is to use China-China Amer in place of orange liqueur if you have it. We found it to be less candy like and, debatably, an improvement. Don’t get too tricky with the sparkling—we’ve found that a complex regional sparkling doesn’t work as well as a simple straightforward classic. This drink is a good opportunity to experiment with bitters, but the profile is on the lighter side and even one extra dash of this or that will change things dramatically.