Ring in the New Year With Three Bubbly Cocktails
Top bars around the country share what they're serving on New Year's Eve.
If you’re the type of person who prefers a Negroni to a pint of beer or a Manhattan to a glass of red wine, why should you be stuck with a plain old flute of Champagne for your New Year’s Eve toast? Sparkling wines of all kinds are a versatile and long-celebrated cocktail ingredient, and when you ring in 2018, you should consider a bubbly mixed drink.
“Trying to figure out a Champagne for New Year’s Eve is really stressful for people who don’t drink it a lot, so a cocktail is a great way to bridge the gap,” says Ashtin Berry, beverage director for Air’s Champagne Parlor and its downstairs sister bar, a sake-focused spot called Tokyo Record Bar, in New York. Berry’s been tending bar for more than 10 years and previously ran Pops for Champagne in Chicago, so she’s been a longtime student of sparkling-wine mixology. “Not just Champagne but really good sparkling wine of any kind can really take a meal to a different level,” Berry says: Acidity and bubbles cut very well through the indulgent, fatty dishes typically served at New Year’s parties and sparkling wine provides both.
Berry’s cocktail, the Indian Summer, is a twist on the Kir Royale, which combines bubbly with a little bit of blackcurrant or raspberry liqueur. It’s a classic, but it’s a bit simple for Berry’s taste. “I was trying to figure out how to have a cocktail for people who want something sweeter but make it a bit more complex,” she says. The drink incorporates Chambord raspberry liqueur, as well as bittersweet Campari and a good slug of earthy and herbal dry vermouth, but the true key is juice from yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit that combines the acidity of lemon with the aromatic complexity of grapefruit and lime. For the Indian Summer, Berry recommends cava, a sparkling wine from Spain (her favorite brands are Bertha, Azimut and Raventos), but whether you use that or true Champagne, go with something labeled “brut nature,” which indicates a very dry wine with no residual sugars. And consider buying a magnum! The 1.5-liter bottles look impressive, tend to go on sale around New Year’s, and because they have the same size neck as a regular bottle but hold twice the volume, they protect from oxygen and keep your bubbly, well, bubbly, for longer.
“I always have Champagne around,” says Alex Barbatsis, bar director for Los Angeles’ Cafe Birdie and the cocktail den in its back room, Good Housekeeping. “I love Champagne cocktails, so any excuse to make one is good for me.” That’s basically the story behind the Carnival of Souls, which is on a The Nightmare Before Christmas-themed menu available every Wednesday from mid-October through the end of this year. Lauren Pool, head bartender at Good Housekeeping, created a Halloween-appropriate bubblegum syrup, which Barbatsis found worked well with tequila, and then topped with Champagne to dry things out. (The syrup itself is unexpectedly simple: Just let plain simple syrup sit with a few pieces of Dubble Bubble for an hour and a half, then strain.) As an extra carnivalesque twist, the drink comes garnished with a tuft of cotton candy, which guests can stir in to add a bit more sweetness.
The key to making a cocktail with Champagne, Barbatsis says, is not to add too much to it. “Keep the sugars, citrus and booze to a minimum, because the Champagne already has some alcohol and some flavors you don’t want to interfere with,” he says. “Sparkling wine is a such a delicate thing that if you add too much to it it can go a little bit crazy.”
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“When it comes to fall and winter menus, you’ve always got stirred, boozy, Old Fashioned-style drinks. But I’ve always been one to like bright, fruity cocktails,” says Brett Esler, barman at Whisler’s in Austin, Texas, for the last four years. “Champagne adds an interesting twist that brightens everything up.” Esler’s Autumn in Austin, despite its name, would make a gorgeous midnight toast on December 31. It mixes lots of fall flavors—an almond syrup called orgeat, a rum with heavy vanilla notes and a spiced pear liqueur from California with flavors of cinnamon and clove—with bright lemon juice and Champagne for a drink that’s somehow simultaneously a dose of comforting holiday spice and a blast of citrusy refreshment.
Esler’s biggest piece of Champagne-cocktail advice is actually to go easy on the Champagne. “Too much and it just tastes kind of like Champagne with something in it,” he says. “It should add to the drink but not overpower it.”
The great thing about Champagne cocktails is that you can make most of them ahead of time. For each of the recipes below, you can batch the base and pour it into glasses to top with bubbly a few minutes before 12, or turn it into a punch by making a big batch of base in a large bowl with an ice block and dumping in a full bottle—or even two!—of sparkling wine.
If, after all this, you’re still worried about breaking a sacred tradition by swapping in bubbly cocktails for glasses of straight Champagne, sparkling wine expert Berry has one last benefit. “No, I absolutely don’t think it’s sacrilegious to serve cocktails at midnight on New Year’s Eve!” she says. “In terms of savings, it’s a great way to make a nice bottle of bubbly go further.”
Carnival of Souls
By Alex Barbatsis | Good Housekeeping | Los Angeles
- 1 oz. tequila
- .5 oz. lemon juice
- .5 oz bubblegum syrup*
- champagne or other sparkling wine
- Glass: flute
- Garnish: cotton candy
Add the tequila, lemon juice and bubblegum syrup to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a flute glass. Fill with Champagne or other sparkling wine and garnish with a tuft of cotton candy. (Tell guests to push the cotton candy into the cocktail before drinking.)
*To make bubblegum syrup, combine 5 ounces of simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) with 5 pieces of Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum and let stand for 90 minutes. Strain, and store in the refrigerator.
By Ashtin Berry | Air's Champagne Parlor | New York
- .25 oz. Chambord Liqueur
- 1 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
- .5 oz. Campari
- .75 oz. Yuzu juice (or substitute lemon juice)
- Brut nature cava or other sparkling wine
- Glass: coupe
- Garnish: lemon twist
Add all the ingredients except the cava to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe glass. Fill with cava and garnish with a lemon twist.
Autumn in Austin
By Brett Esler | Whisler's | Austin, Texas
- 1.25 oz. Papa's Pilar Blonde Rum
- .5 oz. B.G. Reynolds Original Orgeat
- .5 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 1 oz. Simonet Blanc de Blancs or other champagne
- St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur
- Glass: coupe
- Garnish: pear slice
Add the rum, orgeat and lemon juice to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe glass. Gently pour the Champagne on top and then add 2 spritzes of St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur from a mister bottle. Garnish with a pear slice.