The Champagne Piña Colada is one of those cocktails that’s so unimaginably delicious, it makes you want to kick yourself in the shin for not thinking of it first. There were 63 years in between the creation of the Caribe Hilton’s Piña Colada (the modern classic as we know it, created in 1954), and one London bar that decided to augment the tropical mixture of pineapple, coconut cream, lime and rum with some bubbly. But aside from wishing to have engineered this modern masterpiece myself, we should just all be grateful that it exists.
The story of Champagne Piña Colada
“Everyone loves a Piña Colada,” says Andrei Marcu, bar manager at Coupette in London, the unlikely birthplace of the Champagne Piña Colada, “it is probably one of the most famous drinks of all time. When you add Champagne to the mix, which adds a note of elegance, it’s bound to be a hit with guests.”
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Regardless of whether it’s Winter or Summer time, Marcu says that the bubbly-laced Piña Colada is always one of the bar’s best-selling cocktails — a testament to its irresistibility. It’s somewhat counterintuitive to think that a frozen cocktail would sell even during the coldest time of the year, but the dose of Champagne has seemingly broken the classic Piña Colada free from the shackles of tiki bars and tropical resorts where it seems to have exclusively existed for decades.
“It hits a remarkable zeitgeist that transcends previous social or regional boundaries,” says Jim Wrigley, beverage manager at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Grand Cayman, a destination that boasts its own Champagne Piña Colada-style cocktail called the Escape (If You Like Piña Coladas), which is served like a Ramos Gin Fizz in a Champagne flute rather than frozen like the classic. “Piña Coladas are fun and delicious; Champagne is delicious and classy; cocktails are interesting and newly accessible both in terms of ingredients and information on techniques. The massive popularity of the Champagne Piña Colada is a result of the adult drinker rediscovering their inner early drinker, without fear of stigma or derision.”
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It’s a concept we’re seeing manifest at many of the world’s renowned cocktail bars: a return to familiar classics, but with a modern twist. The 1980s neon-green Midori Sour has been given a facelift in recent years by the likes of New York’s award-winning Japanese-American cocktail bar Katana Kitten; Hacha Agaveria in London is known for its translucent, fresh citrus-free Mirror Margarita, a cocktail ranked the 7th best in the world, according to Timeout in 2019; British pub-inspired The Cambridge Public House in Paris rotates a seasonal Pimm’s Cup onto every menu they release; and bars such as Super Lyan in Amsterdam have an entire menu dedicated to reimagined versions of classic cocktails from The Savoy Cocktail Book, including an elevated Harvey Wallbanger, Mary Pickford, and White Lady.
Cocktail enthusiasts are seeking drinks that conjure feelings of nostalgia and comfort, and even escapism — it’s a significant reason why the Champagne Piña Colada is taking the cocktail world by storm (with the necessary help of Coupette marketing the cocktail by bringing it to bars around the world anytime they do a bar takeover, of course).
Beyond how the cocktail makes you feel, let’s not forget its brilliance from a flavour perspective. The balance of premium rum(s) with a nutty, non-lactic creaminess from the coconut that is lifted by the freshness of the lime juice and tropical pineapple is sublime in and of itself; when you add the notes of brioche and citrus-like acidity from the Champagne, there are few cocktails that rival such deliciousness — making it a genuine crowd-pleaser.
At the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa in Grand Cayman where the non-frozen take on the Champagne Piña Colada sits on its rightful throne, Wrigley says that the blend of ingredients converts even the most doubtful drinkers. “Even people who have said they don’t like Piña Coladas have made the Escape (IYLPC) their opening gambit on every visit after trying their friend’s or partner’s,” he points out. Personally, I can attest to drinking at least seven of them over the course of the few days that I spent drinking in Grand Cayman in the Fall of 2019; and anyone who sat near me at the bar fell victim to listening to me wax poetic about the cocktail’s unparalleled delectability. (It’s safe to say, I also successfully converted a few doubters myself.)
As a foodie or cocktail enthusiast visiting London, going to Coupette to experience this modern classic should be right up there on your list of must-have experiences (I mean…it’s basically as elegant as Buckingham Palace, except it also gets you buzzed, so it’s arguably better). And even though Marcu says that the bar will move onto more conceptual menus in the future, they still plan to include old favourites in their new menus, including the Champagne Piña Colada which made its first appearance in 2017.
“So don’t you worry,” Marcu says, “we will not get rid of it.”
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Rhian Campbell)
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