Red ‘n’ Bubbly

22nd November 2017


You might think that red would be a natural colour for a sparkling cocktail. After all, even if red bubbly per se generally falls into the category Germans call dreimenchenwein – the drinker having to be held down by two other men – with pink Champagne surely one is halfway there? And anyway, what about all those red fruits? Won’t their juice do the trick?

Alas, no and no. The only pink bubbly that even half works in cocktails is the ultra palest. Which no one in their right minds would darken, or mix. And as for red fruits, their juice mostly emerges just about colourless, also cloudy. And with modern soft fruit, almost tasteless too. Hence muddling fruit at the bottom of the shaker, so popular among bartenders a few years ago, was always more ‘stage business’ than a contribution to the colour and taste of the drink.

The real reason why there are so few red sparkling cocktails is that creating them is so very difficult. For a start, drinkers expect any cocktail made with Champagne (particularly) to taste of Champagne. But bubbly isn’t water-white: so when you add other ingredients the mix veers towards brown, or worse.

The upshot is that the only famous red sparkling (Champagne) cocktail is the Alfonso, where the colour comes from Dubonnet. The original recipe is without Brandy, but it’s better with some, I think. But pink or white bubbly makes no difference to the colour. As for Buck’s Fizz – yes, you can make it with blood orange juice. The result will look like bubbling liquid rust and with normal orange and pink bubbly, the outcome is just tawnier orange.

Best of the red stuff

In fact, the only effective way to make red sparkling cocktails is with grenadine syrup or a dark red liqueur. Or, usually, both. Grenadine became a universal cocktail standby because it adds sweetness balanced with acidity, colour and a fruity taste that’s neutral. That’s genuine pomegranate-and-sugar grenadine I’m meaning. If you can’t be bothered to make it yourself, look for ‘Pomegranate Molasses’, which is very dark and acidic but dry, not sweet. Sweeten up some of it with simple syrup and keep the rest as is… Large Sainsbury’s have it, and doubtless other stores too.

As for red liqueurs, the neutral alcohol-based French crèmes do nothing but spoil sparkling cocktails. The ones that will work are Cherry Brandy and Sloe Gin or Damson Gin. Look for brands with more than 20 degrees of alcohol. Thus, among the CBs, Grants, Heering, and Boudier, which all have a nutty background that not only harmonises with grape tastes, but adds weight and complexity to a cocktail.

Sloe Gin, made from wild plums, is likewise excellent in cocktails – a touch of it boosting other fruit flavours without denaturing them. It seems to work in the same way with sparkling wine. In other words, a little goes a long way, so the SG needs to be good and dark, and neither too vegetal or Ginny. Plymouth’s and Heyman’s are both very well balanced in these respects, Wilkinson’s a fraction pale – but nothing a touch of pomegranate molasses won’t fix. Damson Gin is more obviously plummy in taste than sloe, and more purple in colour. Also a lot harder to find. The Wilkinson’s version is commendable.

Of other red fruit liqueurs, Crème de Mure is a favourite with some great mixologists. But brand styles vary widely, possibly because ‘Mure’ can mean either mulberry or blackberry. In any case, you get the same colour and taste effects with good grenadine.

In a shaker with ice
15 ml Cherry Brandy
10 ml Brandy
1 Teaspoon dry grenadine syrup
½ Teaspoon Benedictine
Shake and strain into flute glass
Fill with bubbly, stir
Garnish: orange slice

In a shaker with ice
20 ml Calvados
10 ml Grenadine syrup
5 ml Grenadine molasses (dry)
2 Teaspoons Ice Cider/ Pommeau/ Pommona
Shake and strain into flute glass
Fill with bubbly, stir
Garnish: cherry

In a shaker with ice
30 ml Cherry Brandy or Damson Gin
20 ml Tequila Blanco
5 ml Kirsch
5 ml Grenadine molasses (dry)
Shake and strain into flute glass
Fill with bubbly, stir
Garnish: orange twist – which makes a
major contribution to the taste


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’.