All that glitters is not gold. Some of what glitters are bubbles, flitting their way up a champagne flute, tickling your nose at the lip of a coupe. If you’re looking to celebrate an occasion of any — or no — magnitude, forget the glitter, the confetti, and the poppers.
Head straight for the champagne — it’s a party in a glass.
Not every bottle of champagne is champagne, indeed, much of it is sparkling wine… but we’ll leave an exploration of definitions and semantics to another time. What is true, is that it’s hard to improve on a good glass of sparkling wine. Hard, but not impossible. While you probably don’t want to attempt at embellishing on an outrageously good bottle of bubbly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating a champagne-based cocktail. In fact, some of the first cocktails to be labeled as such were champagne cocktails; recipes for them appear in Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, which was published more than 100 years ago.
It’s a shame that this historic drink is so consistently botched at the bar. The results of my completely unscientific survey taken over the last ten years have revealed a disturbing trend: a fair share of champagne cocktails taste like straight apple juice (how?), Martinelli’s sparkling cider, or nothing at all, because the bartender raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and indicated that he had no idea what a champagne cocktail was.
Fortunately for me — and us — there’s someone that does.
Trisha Antonsen is Drizly’s first chief cocktail officer and their editor-in-chief. In this role, Trisha works to educate, inform, and inspire booze hounds, by creating and sharing new cocktail recipes, taste-testing the classics, researching industries, alcoholic drink histories, and the stories behind the brands and the bottles that we keep in our bars. It’s a position that she takes seriously, as evidenced by the thoughtfulness she puts into the pairing of ingredients and the reasons she chooses to share a cocktail during a particular season, even as she maintains an obvious sense of whimsy and playfulness. You might well remember her Valentine’s cocktail offerings, and if you’re about to board an airplane any time soon and are looking to go beyond the usual rum and coke, Trisha’s got you covered with her Mile High Mixology Guide — sure to make the skies feel friendlier than ever.
Trisha has a soft spot in her heart for champagne cocktails:
I studied abroad in college in Paris and my boyfriend at the time (now husband) flew in for our anniversary to surprise me with a trip to Reims in the Champagne region of France. We toured the most well known Champagne houses along with smaller growers and fell in love with everything about sparkling wine. After that trip, we started drinking Champagne and sparkling wine more regularly, not just on special occasions. It’s a very complex wine and it pair incredibly well with food; from a classy cheese platter to pad thai takeout!
With that in mind, she was happy to share her thoughts on crafting the perfect champagne cocktail with us:
Why champagne cocktails?
Bubbles make everything better! Champagne cocktails are typically lower in calories and alcohol compared to traditional cocktails, making them a fun and light beverage you can enjoy a couple of without the guilt or the headaches.
Stir up an old fashioned or dirty martini before noon and you might catch a few awkward glances. It’s totally acceptable to enjoy a champagne cocktail over brunch. Champagne cocktails can be enjoyed at any event, day or night. Choose mixers that match the menu and feel of your event. Juices, bitters, other spirit infusions, fruit garnishes. Pair up flavors in the mixer with the wine.
What makes an incredible champagne cocktail? How can you ensure you make a really good one?
Mixing champagne in cocktails has been popular since the mid-1800s. The classic Champagne Cocktail in particular has been a staple of cocktail culture since about that time, as well. Its simple ingredient list and complex, yet light flavor makes for a drink that virtually everyone can enjoy. Also, bonus, it clocks in at about 110 calories and about 13% ABV, so you can enjoy a couple without the side effects of overindulging.
Making a great Champagne cocktail comes down to taste preference, but I think the best ones are made with chilled, extra brut bubbles. The dryness of the sparkling wine balances perfectly with the bitters and fruit oil from the peel.
What is a mistake or a misstep that can be made in making this cocktail? What are things home bartenders should avoid in attempting a champagne cocktail?
You don’t need to break the bank on expensive Champagne for these cocktails. Go for lower-priced sparkling wine varieties such as American sparkling wines, cava, or prosecco. I also opt for brut or extra brut bottles. Always use chilled wine — the ideal serving temp for champagne is 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
When making Champagne cocktails, always pour the mixture first, then Champagne, so that the wine doesn’t bubble over.
Trisha shares her recipe for the classic Champagne cocktail below, adding:
The classic Champagne cocktail is a fun cocktail to make for friends because it’s pretty easy, but still makes you look like a badass. You’re popping bubbly, peeling fruit for a garnish and dashing bitters. It’s a sophisticated drink and it always makes the moment feel a little bit more special without having to go over the top.
- Brut or Extra Brut Sparkling Wine
- Angostura Bitters
- Sugar Cube
- Lemon Peel
- On a cocktail napkin, place the sugar cube and shake 4-5 dashes of bitters onto it. Drop the sugar cube a champagne flute.
- Top with chilled sparkling wine.
- Garnish with a twist of lemon peel, squeeze peel over the top of the glass and rub edges before dropping peel into the glass.
Note: We don’t like to mess with this recipe too much because it’s so classic and time-tested, but it’s easy to make small changes here and there to put your own personal spin on it. The most simple riff is to play around with trying different bitters. I love peach bitters in my champagne cocktail from time to time. Also try garnishing with an orange or grapefruit twist for a subtle update. Another twist is using sparkling rosé instead of the traditional sparkling white wine.