June 6, 2019

A Champagne Cocktail for Absinthe Lovers, Death in the Afternoon

A combination of strong and complex anise flavors with sparkling wine for a bold and boozy cocktail NOT for the faint of heart.

When I say this is a bold and boozy cocktail I mean it. Think big anise/black licorice flavors contrasted with cold crisp bubbles and a garnish of lemon. 

If those big flavors sound enticing you might be substituting this in for Mimosas at your future brunch gatherings (you'll definitely have a way better buzz than everybody else).

Death in the Afternoon is one of the classic drinks created by the famous writer Ernest Hemingway that fall under the description of strong and dry (just like the Hemingway Daiquiri), due to the combination of his diabetes and love for drinking.

Measuring simple syrup

A tasty adjustment to the classic recipe

Despite the fact the Ernest would probably disagree, I think the Death in the Afternoon benefits from just a touch of sweetness.

In some cases the slightest hint of sweetness can help round out the flavors in a drink, and I think it works well here.

Try it with and without simple syrup first and see what you like!

The tiny splash is not there to add lots of sweetness, but rather take the edge off the absinthe just a little bit.

Pouring sparkling wine

What sparkling wine to use for cocktails?

There are plenty of great options including Prosecco and Cava (two different styles of sparkling wine) to use for making drinks. Hemmingway called for Champagne, but you don't have to spend the extra money for fancy french bubbles.

For Death in the Afternoon (and for most bubbly cocktails) you will want to use a dry sparkling wine usually labeled Brut.

Other than that grab something in the ten to twenty dollar price range that you would also enjoy drinking any leftovers.

Whatever you use just be sure to chill it down really well. There is no ice going in so the temperature of the wine will be the temperature of the final cocktail.

Opening a bottle of absinthe
Measuring absinthe with a jigger

Absinthe fo​​​​r your drinks

When purchasing a bottle of absinthe, try not to grab anything that looks neon or bright emerald green...

Chances are it is artificially colored and flavored and won't give you the intense herbal symphony that a good absinthe does.

I really like this bottle from St George Distillery because of its incredible flavor and its' small size. It costs a fraction of a typical bottle and it will last forever because you don't use much of it in cocktails.

Peeling lemon zest

How ​​​​​to make a Death in the Afternoon

In the words of the man himself: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

But that's 1.5 oz of 60% alcohol absinthe and will pack a serious punch.

If you drink 5 of these in an afternoon you will not be making it through dinner. I cut that measure in half and make it with a smaller 3/4 oz pour. Sorry Ernest but I don't have your iron-clad tolerance for alcohol.

Garnishing with lemon zest

To make it the way I do measure in the absinthe, add a touch of simple syrup, top with sparkling wine.

Optionally, express the oils of a piece of lemon peel over the top for some complimenting citrus flavors.

Be sure the wine you use is properly chilled, and it won't hurt to pop your Champagne flutes in the freezer for a few minutes before.

Death in the Afternoon

A sparkling wine cocktail with a strong absinthe backbone


  • 3/4 oz Absinthe
  • ~4 oz Dry Sparkling Wine
  • 1 tsp Simple Syrup - optional
  • Lemon Peel - optional


  • Add Absinthe and Simple Syrup to a chilled cocktail glass and stir.
  • Top with chilled Sparkling Wine.
  • Garnish with lemon if you'd like, and serve.


When absinthe is combined with the other ingredients it will cloud up. That's normal and goes away quickly.
Be sure your sparkling wine is cold since there is no ice or chilling process for this cocktail.
Adding sugar and lemon garnish is not traditional, but I don't have the tastes of a lifelong alcoholic writer...
Total Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Servings: 1 drink
Tag me at @mydrinkinghobby when you make this!

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Death in the Afternoon Recipe Pinterest

I wouldn't recommend drinking these "slowly throughout the afternoon" as Hemingway reportedly did, but one or two can be delicious.

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