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Toast of the Town

Toast of the Town
December 2009
Champagne cocktails have put the sparkle in local celebrations for centuries

In the post-Prohibition 1940s and ’50s, champagne cocktails swept across America as the ultimate in chic libations. When the heroine of a Hollywood romance was offered one of these bubbly concoctions, it marked her lover as a sophisticate. For Charlestonians, however, these elegant beverages were nothing new. Champagne punch—essentially a big bowl’s worth of the cocktail—had been present at the Holy City’s best parties long before Sarah Rutledge included a receipt for Regent’s Punch in the 1847 edition of Carolina Housewife.

A potent brew of green tea, brandy, and champagne popularized by England’s Prince Regent (later King George IV) in the late 18th century, Regent’s Punch is one of the first recorded recipes for a champagne cocktail. It was introduced to Charleston in the early 1800s and quickly became a favorite, inspiring dozens of variations. By the end of the century, champagne punch was the essential beverage of any society event, from fashionable weddings to the famed St. Cecilia Ball.

At those large parties, the brew could be as straightforward as a blend of chilled champagne, lemons, and brandy, or as elaborate as the St. Cecilia Society’s famed mélange with cold green tea, several different spirits, and fruit added to the bowl. At more intimate gatherings, however, the cocktail often was—and still is—kept simpler and, in my opinion, better.