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There are endless cocktails in the world, and new ones invented every day, but how many of these drinks are true essentials? In this series, we're discussing drinks everyone should know—five essential drinks for every major category of spirits. Want to catch up? Here are our essential drinks made with vodka, bourbon, rye, brandy, and gin.
This week, with holiday celebrations looming, we'll cover essential fizzy cocktails. Whether made from cava, prosecco, American bubbly, or the venerable Champagne, sparkling wine-based cocktails are a treat for any party, from the large to the intimate.
We start with the simplest, and perhaps the most classic. This blend of sugar, bitters, and bubbly is as simple and festive as it is delicious. Place a sugar cube into a flute, and douse on a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. Let the bitters soak into the sugar, and carefully pour on Champagne. The sugared bitters will cause the wine to fizz up more than it normally would, so take it slow.
[Photograph: Robyn Lee]
This Parisian cocktail was created during the First World War at Harry's New York Bar, and named for a powerful field gun. Some versions call for cognac, but the original uses gin; the gin version is a better drink, in my opinion, but the cognac variation is also tasty, so I won't blame you for trying it.
Champagne is the authentic choice for this cocktail, but honestly, it won't suffer if you sub in a less-expensive fizz. Be careful with newbies; thanks to the bubbles and the bright lemon, this drink sneaks up on people after the second round.
Have you ever really bungled a cocktail? I mean, really screwed it up to the point where you had to toss it in the sink? With the Negroni Sbagliato, you can screw up a drink and yet still make something delicious. You see, sbagliato, in Italian, means "bungled" or "mistaken."
Remember, a traditional Negroni is made from Campari, the bitter liqueur; sweet vermouth; and gin. The "broken" Negroni, or Negroni Sbagliato, starts with Campari and sweet vermouth. In place of gin, though, the Sbagliato version uses sparkling wine. Some bars use Prosecco, which, as an Italian sparkler, makes sense to me. Other places use Champagne. The Prosecco should be just fine here, so don't feel the need to spend extra for champers.
You can tinker around with proportions. Start with equal parts of each ingredient—perhaps 1 1/2 ounces apiece. The original Negroni rewards variations—I for one prefer a little more gin than the equal-parts version calls for. And you'll find too that the Sbagliato is similarly flexible. Want more fizzy? Knock yourself out! It's your drink, so have some fun.
[Photo: Robyn Lee]
When you think of classic Kentucky cocktails, your thoughts may turn first to the mint julep. But the Bluegrass State has given us another wonderful potable, the Seelbach. Start with some fine Kentucky bourbon, add a splash of triple sec (Cointreau is best here), and a healthy dosing of two different bitters. Build all of that in a champagne flute, give it a good stir, and top with sparkling wine.
Soyer au Champagne
Here's a change of pace for this column: a dessert cocktail. I normally find this category to be full of overly sweet monstrosities, full of chocolate and topped with candy bars and bits of cotton candy. Most dessert cocktails are crimes against humanity. This one's an exception—delicious, not overly sweet, but still truly desserty. And hey, if we're talking about holiday imbibery, why not? A little indulgence is what the holidays are all about.
About the author: Michael Dietsch approaches life with a hefty dash of bitters. He is a proud new father, boozologist, and cocktail curmudgeon. He lives in Providence. You can follow him on twitter at @dietsch.