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G & H Cocktail Club: Death In the Afternoon

Death In the Afternoon: A Champagne Cocktail Like No Other

Spooky season is upon us as the pumpkins hit the porch and spider webs unfurl from the windows. For adventurous drinkers, there’s no better time to conjure the green fairy, absinthe. Due to the misconception that absinthe can induce hallucinations, it has only been legal in the United States since 2007. Don’t tell that to Ernest Hemingway, who created this cocktail in 1930’s Key West as a vessel for adding a boozy, herbaceous kick to his daily dose of champagne. Named after his novel about the perils, pride, and nobility of bullfighting in Spain, the Death In the Afternoon cocktail isn’t nearly as strong as its name implies. Think of it less as a boozy brunch cocktail and more of a late afternoon apéritif to steel the nerves against the changing seasons.

There is some technique involved in the execution of this drink, making it eminently more drinkable than whatever Hemingway was mixing up on his boat in between adventures. Instead of adding a small amount of room temperature and powerfully potent absinthe – a spirit residing in the 130-proof range – you can enhance the enjoyment of this cocktail by “louching” the absinthe in ice before adding it to the cocktail. This will make the drink lighter while accentuating the herbal notes of absinthe, which is rarely if ever, consumed straight. Absinthe’s key flavors (fennel and anise) are insoluble in water as if the ingredients are muted by the high alcohol content of the spirit. Slowly adding water, as the classic absinthe fountains do – or in our case, stirring the absinthe with ice – releases those herbal compounds making the emerald green spirit cloudy, much more delicious and aromatically complex. Hemingway suggested downing three to five of these drinks in succession. I’d advise against that if you want to see if the sun also rises the following day.

Death In the Afternoon

Prep Time: 5 min

Makes: 1 serving


  • 1 oz Absinthe
  • 5 oz. Champagne or any dry sparkling wine
  • 1 dash of Peychaud’s bitters (optional) for the “blood effect” on top of the drink*


  1. In a large glass filled with ice, add the absinthe and stir for 15 seconds, noting how the dark green hue becomes opaque like a little green cloud.
  2. Pour the chilled absinthe into a coupe glass or champagne flute and top with the champagne or sparkling wine.
  3. Garnish with a long lemon twist and while away the afternoon.

Pro Tips

  • *Add a dash of the fire engine red Peychaud’s bitters on top of the drink to create a spooky effect.

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