Pop Goes the Cocktail

7th March 2017


Sparkling look good and taste good But they’re clever too.

If Classic Champagne cocktails are all about the taste of Champagne itself, then sparkling cocktails are all about everything else that’s in the recipe: spirit(s) liqueurs, juices, sometimes bitters. In sparkling cocktails the bubbly not only turns the mix into a long drink with the incomparable pizzazz only bubbly can give, it ‘extends’ the flavours of those other ingredients, the way Vermouth does in still cocktails.

Sparkling cocktails in fact are a special breed. Crucially their main sweetening isn’t some form of pure sugar but via flavoured ingredients with the potential to add colour too. For these reasons many sparkling cocktails – arguably most of the best – are actually based on those flavourers, sweeteners, and colourisers. With looks being almost as important as tastes.

So cue therefore not just real Champagne but every sparkler that can hold its fizz and has decent body, alcohol, and acidity. Taste? Well, since cocktails can go many ways taste-wise, sometimes several at the same time, the neutral-tasting sparklers are the most flexible. A positive varietal taste or natural sweetness probably won’t help, since you’ll probably have to offset or compensate for it. Sparkling cocktails must never cloy. One glass should always tempt you to another, and another…

By any other name?
Since the earliest cocktail times any recipe that appeared in print almost invariably named the sparkling ingredient as ‘Champagne’. Inverted commas? No chance! Of course everyone called it Champagne, but it wasn’t necessarily so. Bars everywhere used the real thing sometimes (especially if the drink was made in the customer’s sight) but often whatever was local and available and expedient. And the point is, the cocktail wouldn’t necessarily be any the worse for it.

Potentially any light, neutral-tasting ‘traditional method’ sparkler with good acidity is fine in sparkling cocktails. Pronounced varietal style, especially if it comes up sweet as it does with Asti Spumante or traditional Prosecco, is usually a disadvantage.

And yet, despite everything they seem to have going for them, and setting aside the recent one-trick Bellini bubble, the remarkable thing about sparkling cocktails is how few there are of them. Why? Well, to be sure not for the want of trying over the years. But because they are not at all easy to get right.

And that’s all down to that ‘extender’ function mentioned above. The bubbly doesn’t dilute tastes, it expands them, so they are inclined to lose their integrity, and you taste all sorts of things you maybe would rather not. In any spirits in the recipe. In the liqueurs. In the juices, especially if they’re not fresh-squeezed.

Result: you can’t just make any old cocktail, top it up with the bubbly, and wait for the cheers. But get the trick right though and there’s nothing more pleasurable in a glass.

To a chilled flute glass add:
One ice cube
15 ml Green Chartreuse
20 ml Parfait Amour*
Top with sparkling wine
Stir gently once
Garnish: sliver of orange zest

30 ml Gin
Juice of ¼ orange
Juice of ¼ lemon
Juice of ¼ lime
1 Tablespoon raspberry syrup*
Sparkling wine to fill
Garnish: orange wheel
Shake juices, syrup, Gin. Strain into a
tumbler-type glass filled with roughly
broken ice. Then add the bubbly.

30 ml White Rum
15 ml Peach Schnapps
1 Dash Triple Sec
1 Dash syrup
Squeeze of lime
Stir with ice and strain into flute
glass. Fill with bubbly
Garnish: peach wheel
Recipe: David Hurst.

Bernard Barbuk

After a career as a business journalist, he wrote on drinks subjects for almost every extant drinks publication. He now divides his time between refining his database of 2,000-plus classic recipes & finishing a book on ‘the 18 Families of the classic cocktail’.