Bubbles & Booze: A New Year’s Cocktail Primer

Bubbles & Booze: A New Year's Cocktail Primer 5

New Year’s Eve parties are an eternal puzzle, full of charming potential and celebratory whimsy, but also rife with the worst pitfalls of any deeply anticipated celebration – times, like, a million.  Every year it seems that for each successful kiss at the stroke of midnight (cue fireworks!), there are at least two or three moments of expectations foiled… (Why is the line for this party three blocks long?)

Besides suggesting that no sane person should ever go to Times Square on this particular night of the year, the best piece of advice we can offer is predictably what to drink.  Bubbles are certainly de rigueur, and we’d love to point you in the direction of a few choice bottles of Champagne… but we’re also smitten with mixed drinks that incorporate a little higher proof with their effervescence.  To really kick 2018 off right, and lay 2017 to rest, we’re going to need both bubbles and booze.

The classic of all classics, of course, is the Champagne Cocktail.  One of the oldest and yet most consistent of the 19th Century cocktail pantheon, this drink is curiously also one of the most questionable. David Embury, the preeminent cocktail-philosopher of the 1940s, pointed out the problem in his seminal work The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (in which he also identified the two major umbrella categories of Aromatic and Sour cocktails):

“From every point of view, other than cost, this cocktail is a decidedly inferior drink, and no true Champagne lover would ever commit the sacrilege of polluting a real vintage Champagne by dunking even plain sugar — much less bitters — in it.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps there’s just so much pleasure to be had in gussying up some otherwise inoffensive sparkling wine with the vigorous quaffability and extreme appeal of this simple preparation method that even the deepest wine nerds out there (*ahem* like us) can let slip the otherwise terroir-specific terminology and just throw caution and nomenclature to the wind. This one time a year, making this one drink specifically… y’know what? It can all be Champagne to us. Pinky out.

Champagne Cocktail

On a small dish or other easily-cleaned surface, soak a small sugar cube in aromatic bitters (we prefer Angostura). Drop this colorful little cube into a flute, top with your “Champagne” of choice, and finish the drink with a thick, long twist of lemon (be sure to spritz it across the surface of the wine before dropping it in).

What it lacks in respectful austerity on the palate it makes up for in hedonistic elegance to behold.

If, however, you’re looking for a more complex and nuanced sparkling wine cocktail (and a leap in blood-alcohol content, as advertised above), our favorite classic is without a doubt the Airmail cocktail.

A gem from Embury’s era (first published in Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts), this drink is arguably the most dashing take on the Daiquiri ever put down on paper.

Essentially, this is a Daiquiri Royale; historically speaking, besides simply the Kir, any drink could be crowned with Champagne and thus converted into Royalty. It makes sense to us – isn’t everything better with bubbles?

Margarita Royale? Delicious. Sidecar Royale? Perfection. Martini Royale? No judgements. Stinger Royale? We’ll take three, please.

The Airmail builds upon this idea by pairing aged rum and the rich, floral pleasure of honey. If you want to spend a really fun evening sometime, we recommend gathering a few bottles of sparkling wine and a few different aged rums, plus a few good friends, and trying out different combinations. Interchanging those two components can make for endless variations on such a simple recipe as this.

Airmail

Combine ingredients in mixing tin ; shake with ice, then strain into coupe or flute ; top with sparkling wine ; garnish with lemon twist

 

While we’re on the subject of the Royale, though, let’s try a newer take on that old idea.

The Kir began as a method of showcasing some of the agricultural output of Burgundy by pairing blackcurrants (Crème de Cassis) with Chardonnay.  In the Spirits department, we love to showcase another French appellation at every opportunity: Normandy.

New Year’s Eve being a generally chilly night, it seems quite appropriate to enjoy a drink featuring Calvados and its kin; one of our favorites is the contemporary soon-to-be-classic Normande Royale. An approachable but complex pairing of the region’s cider-and-brandy liqueur known as Pommeau and  Italian aperitivi (with sparkling wine, of course), this drink has the bitter bite to kick off any holiday meal well, but the heavy orchard fruit to finish out the same meal, partnering beautifully with a New Year’s Eve cheese course, for example.

We suggest you arrange for this exact course of action; then, invite us over.

Normande Royale

Stir with ice briefly (just 2-3 revolutions) to chill, then strain into coupe or flute ; top with sparkling wine ; garnish with an apple fan or wedge.

“But what,” you may be asking, “can I do for my friends who only drink vodka when they aren’t drinking Champagne??”

Besides weeping softly for them, we do have a recipe to curl their toes a little. A spin on the contemporary classic Botticelli (found in Jim Meehan’s 2010 Summer Cocktails), which has perhaps become a contemporary classic in its own right, Botticelli’s Daughter is both a straight-forward crowd-pleaser and a delicately nuanced cocktail with a lot to offer.

Do you like Greyhounds and Screwdrivers? This will probably make you happy. But do you like Paper Planes and Corpse Revivers? You’re probably covered, too. A little bitter, a little bubbly, a little herbal (thanks, absinthe!) and a little boozy, this drink truly has something for everyone.

Botticelli’s Daughter

Combine ingredients in mixing tin ; add ice & shake, then strain into flute ; top with sparkling wine ; garnish with long grapefruit twist

OK, we have one more fun one for you.

With the popularity today of American whiskey, it’s becoming just as likely that you may have a guest who insists on drinking bourbon as vodka. We’ve got you covered here, too.

There are many classic bourbon-and-bubbles drinks (and notorious semi-classic ones, too, like the Seelbach Cocktail) but this recent hit has been a favorite of ours for a few years now. Much as the Botticelli’s Daughter pairs bubbles and absinthe (which is, of course, a nod to Hemingway’s classic tribute, Death in the Afternoon), the Little Peach cocktail features the potent duo of bourbon and anise, but the entire affair is notably brightened by the addition of peach, which seems to lend an inherently festive affair to any drink it meets. This is a Southern Royale if ever there was one.

Little Peach (aka “You’re A Peach”)

Stir briefly with ice (2-3 revolutions) to chill ; strain into flute ; top wth sparkling wine ; garnish with a lemon twist (and a wedge of peach, if you got ‘em).

Make sure you use a bourbon that’s good and strong, like Medley 102 (or even one of the recent cask-strength releases from Wathen’s or Barrell). This drink can run a bit sweet with a lower-ABV, and frankly we’re also ending with this one because it’s the drink that should really help you put a firecracker finish on 2017. This is the Auld Lang Syne ender for you – so many happy returns.

From all of us to all of you in 2018 and beyond: cheers!