Monday 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve Cocktails

What better night to enjoy some Champagne or sparkling wine than New Year's? Should you be in a cocktail mood, here are some delicious drinks containing sparkling wine perfect for celebrating the arrival of 2013. We'll start with some classics and move on to more contemporary sippers.

The best choice of sparkling wine for mixing is always dry. In fact, the best wine for any use is almost always dry. Also, be aware of the acidity you're adding to the drink when you top with sparkling wine. The carbonic acid will affect the sweetness of your drink, despite the sugar content in the wine itself, which is one of the reasons to choose something dry. When mixing your other ingredients, balance things on the sweeter side, and likewise don't be surprised if you find your drink too sweet before topping with the wine as it will be dried out. French 75's, for example, should be a little sweet before you top them.

A great choice for any use is cava, as these tend to be great quality for how much you pay. Prosecco is great for the same reason, and they also tend to be dry so are excellent choices. Should you choose a North American sparkling wine or a Champagne, look for a "Brut" or "extra Brut", which means the wine is dry (i.e. not sweet). "Sec" refers to high levels of sugar, which is something you want to avoid if mixing (and in my opinion, something you should avoid altogether).

The Champagne Cocktail
1 raw sugar cube
Several dashes of Angostura or other aromatic bitters
Top with Champagne or sparkling wine

Drop the sugar cube into a Champagne flute and soak with the bitters. Top with sparkling wine. 
Garnish with a lemon twist.

This drink dates back to the 1850's and is the first recorded variation on the "cock-tail," a combination of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. Later variations included the addition of Cognac or brandy, which is in my opinion an excellent choice and I suggest going with 1/2oz. Should you have no sugar cubes on-hand, the original recipes call for 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, or 1 teaspoon of 1:1 simple syrup. Twist as always means just the peel of the lemon with the pith cut off, which you squeeze over the top of the drink to extract the oil.

French 75
1oz gin
1/2oz lemon juice
1 teaspoon of sugar
Sparkling wine

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail coupe or Champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine.

This drink originated at Harry's New York Bar in Paris in 1915, created by American bar owner Harry MacElhone. The drink was said to "pack a punch like the French 75mm field gun," hence the name. The above recipe is from Harry Craddock's seminal cocktail tome, "The Savoy Cocktail Book," though more modern recipes contain up to 2oz of gin (which I must be honest I prefer). In David Embury's equally as influential cocktail book, "The Art of Mixing Drinks," the recipe claims that Cognac is the true spirit of choice here, lest the drink not be called the "French" 75. However, considering that earlier recipes call for gin and that earlier accounts claim the name comes from the French rifle and not from the spirit, the general consensus is that the drink be made with gin, which in my opinion makes a better drink anyway. Dropping a real cherry into the bottom of the glass adds a nice touch.

Buck and Breck
1.5oz Cognac or brandy
Dash of absinthe
2 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters
Sparkling wine

Rinse a small glass or Champagne flute with water. Fill the glass with powdered sugar and throw it out, leaving the glass frosted inside. Pour in the brandy, bitters, and absinthe, then top the glass with cold sparkling wine.

This drink is supposedly created by the grandfather of the cocktail, Jerry Thomas, in the mid 1800's. It is not only a fancy-looking drink, but a more obscure one and very tasty. Should you be without absinthe, absente, pastis, Herbsaint, or pernod will suffice, but be aware of their shortcomings in flavour and complexity in comparison to actual absinthe.

Seelbach Cocktail
1oz bourbon
1/2oz Cointreau
7 dashes Angostura bitters
7 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Sparkling wine

Stir bourbon, Cointreau, and bitters with ice. Strain into a cocktail coupe or Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

This was a favourite of mine for a time, and one that I brought to Pourhouse in Vancouver where we included it on our fall menu this year. It comes from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1917. During Prohibition, the cocktail was lost until the mid-1990's when it was found in the basement of the hotel during renovations. The infamous Gary Regan convinced the hotel management to share their recipe for this spicy drink and now it is available for us all to enjoy. Should you be using other bitters, be aware of their bitterness and adjust accordingly. Bitter Truth Creole Bitters, for example, is more complex and interesting than Peychaud's, but are much more bitters and only require 2-3 dashes.

Death In The Afternoon
1.5oz absinthe
Sparkling wine

Pour absinthe into a Champagne flute and top with sparkling wine (at least 4oz). 

This one was invented by Hernest Hemingway, who was by all accounts a heavy and creative drinker. It was named after his novel published in 1932. This was not the only drink he created, another one of note being the Hemingway Daquiri or Papa Doble, with rum, grapefruit, lime, and maraschino liqueur, which is by all means worth making in the summer. 

Moving on to more modern cocktails, here is a French 75 variation by Dale Degroff using bourbon instead of gin.

French 95
1oz fresh orange juice
3/4oz bourbon
3/4oz simple syrup
1/2oz fresh lemon juice
Sparkling wine. 

Shake the first four ingredients with ice and strain over rocks into a fizz glass. Top with sparkling wine. 

And here are three great original sparkling wine cocktails contributed to this site for previous series.

Jones' Bitter Aperitif (Evelyn Chick, Blue Water Cafe, Vancouver)
1/2oz Amaro Averna

1/4oz Cynar
1/4oz Taylor 10 Tawny Port
Barspoon All-Spice Syrup

Sparkling wine

Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into champagne flute & top with dry cava

All-Spice Syrup:
Boil a tablespoon of crushed allspice berries, one stick of cinnamon, and three cloves in one litre of water. Simmer for 15 minutes on low, then add two litres of sugar. Stir until dissolved, then let cool before bottling. 

The Shibuya Crusta (Shaun Layton, L'Abattoir, Vancouver)

20 ml Hennessy VS Cognac
15 ml Maraschino
30 ml fresh lemon juice
10 ml orgeat syrup
7 dashes Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to a shaker tin minus the Cava. Shake, fine strain into sugar decked flute. Top with Cava. Garnish with a long orange peel around the inside of the flute. 
And a personal favourite of mine that we still serve by request at Pourhouse, The Bittercup. Two bitter amari along with fresh juices and sparkling wine combine to create a very complex cocktail tasting like bitter strawberry.
The Bittercup
1 oz  Campari
1/2oz Fernet Branca
1/2oz real cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail)
3/4oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/4oz simple syrup
2 oz dry prosecco

Pour all ingredients except prosecco into a shaker. Shake. Taste and balance bitterness with simple syrup (the taste of bitter strawberries is the goal). Double strain into a cocktail glass. Finish with prosecco. 
Happy New Year's!

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