New Year’s Cocktails — Another Drink of the Week Holiday Special

Last week‘s special selection of Christmas drink suggestions were all united by one special ingredient: fat!

While such yuletide standbys as eggnog and hot buttered rum also make excellent New Year’s party favors, it’s possible you’ve had enough rich food during the last several days for a lifetime. So, let’s focus on drinks that might rough up your liver a little but which will leave you arteries alone. And, for our special star ingredient, I’m thinking that we’ll go with that most festive, bubbliest, and Auld Lang Syny-est of cocktail ingredients: champagne, or it’s more or less identical twin, sparkling white wine.

Though a great many old school and more recent craft concoctions feature bubbly, by far the most popular and venerable champagne infused cocktail is the French 75. Conceived in 1915 at Harry’s Bar and quaffed by many of the Lost Generation writers who might have encountered the original and far more deadly French 75 on the battlefield, this drink is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s classy, fun, and — if you drink them in Hemingway/Fitzgerald proportions — will blow you sweetly to kingdom come.
French 75.

The French 75

1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons superfine sugar or 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Champagne/sparkling white wine
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Combine the gin, juice, and sugar or syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake with vigor and strain into a champagne glass. Top off with roughly 2-3 ounces of the dry sparkling white wine of your choice along with the lemon twist.

This is a really sturdy drink that can take a little punishment. You certainly don’t need to use the finest champagne — a half-way acceptable dry sparkling white wine should do the trick. As for the gin, anything from Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay to value-priced Gordon’s should do the trick. Also, some bartenders substitute brandy or cognac, but I still haven’t gotten around to trying that myself.

Another alternative is to go with one of the simplest, yet oddly undersung of champagne cocktails, which is to say, the Champagne Cocktail. If you’ve heard it referred to in movies like “Casablanca,” you might imagine it’s a fancy concoction. In fact, it’s anything but and is actually considered a way to class up some slightly flat bubbly. You can read the orginal post, but making is just a matter of dropping a sugar cube into a champagne flute, whetting it with some Angostura/aromatic bitters, and pouring champagne over it.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re not up for any of the hard stuff, yet maybe you’d like a fizzy white wine cocktail that’s not just fizzy white wine. For that, I give you this alluring liquid lady.

The Italian Mistress.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Sparkling white wine/champagne
1 orange twist (garnish)

For those of you who may not be up on your fancy fortified wines, Punt e Mes is essentially a sweet vermouth with a stronger bitter edge that’s almost chocolately; I love it dearly.  Start your Italian Mistress by combining the Punt e Mes with the bitters and syrup/sugar in a champagne flute. If you’re using sugar, make sure it’s good and dissolved. Fill the rest of the glass with your sparkling white wine and add the orange twist. If you’re fluteless, a regular champagne glass might do, but be aware that they’re usually smaller so you might want to adjust your proportions.

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Of course, these drinks are only a few ideas out of thousands. One of the beauties of New Year’s Eve is that pretty much any mixed alcoholic beverage is in keeping with the night. It’s a great time to dust off such easy-to-make warhorses as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Martini, or Margarita. Just make sure you make ‘em the right way — like I tell you to!

  

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The Italian Mistress

The Italian Mistress.I’m guessing that, even if you weren’t getting hammered specifically on Conhattans or Shamrock Sours last weekend, at least a few of you were overindulging. For your sake, I’m hoping you weren’t overdoing it on bad green beer (is there ever good green beer?) and, if you were doing shots, I’m hoping it was on the good Irish stuff. (I’m personally partial to Bushmills.)

All of that is now in the past, and it’s time to recuperate with a drink that — unusually for DOTW — features not a single drop of hard liquor. Just some of my personal favorite mildly alcoholic grape derivatives. One of them happens to be this week’s sponsor, an old favorite of mine previously featured here several times, most memorably (to me) in the Ugly Americano. I speak of Punt e Mes, which basically tastes like regular sweet vermouth imbued with the spirit of the best dark chocolate you ever had.

Also, as readers of an online men’s magazine, you guys have got to love the name of this week’s tasty but tempestuous beverage.

The Italian Mistress

1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Sparkling white wine
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Punt e Mes, bitters and syrup in the bottom of champagne flute or, if you haven’t got one, a regular champagne glass — in which case you might want to reduce the proportions of syrup and vermouth as flutes tend to be larger. (If you don’t have any simple syrup on hand, by the way, a dissolved teaspoon or less of superfine sugar will also work.) Top off with the sparkling white wine…very carefully. Excess foam can be a factor.

Once your drink is fully poured, add your orange twist. Now, sip and salute the Italian mistresses of the world, not that we have anything but good thoughts for Italian wives and girlfriends.

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This is a pretty simple and straightforward drink, which is one reason why I like it. However, the recipe that came to me simply said it was to be built in a champagne glass, so I originally made this in a smaller regular champagne glass which I also happen to use as a cocktail glass, since it’s essentially the same thing. (The Y-shaped martini glass is a relatively modern invention. Nick and Nora Charles drank their martinis and Manhattans from champagne glasses/coupes and so do I, most of the time.)

It was only when I received the picture above that I realized I was using a slightly wrong glass. I have to admit it was a better balanced drink in the flute, but the version in the champagne glass did put the Punt e Mes a bit more forward, and that’s realy never a bad thing.The one thing I will say is never stint on the bitters on this one. Though Punt e Mes has more than its share of bitter notes, the Angostura is definitely needed to sort of counter-intuitively smooth things over.

The one place where I may have gone wrong was on my choice of bubbly. I stumbled over a very cheap genuine Champagne which had a slightly unpleasant bitterness to it and which I therefore can’t quite recommend.  Still, the drink was sturdy enough to absorb that small blow. After all, any Italian mistress should be able to deal with a bit of French unpleasantness.

Now, we mambo.

  

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