Sparkling Cocktails with Caviar

4th July 2017


Fact: dry or sweet, still or sparkling, classic cocktails work with just about every kind of food, because the spirit base cleans the palate. But it is also a fact that the number of classic cocktails that sparkle is small and the number that are slate or gunmetal coloured miniscule.

Which discouraging thoughts occurred to me when, at a recent drinks and goodies showcase I was confronted by a photo of a spoonful of French (repeat French) farmed sturgeon caviar – Sturia, from near Bordeaux – alongside a brimming flute of Champagne. Luxury to the nth degree to be sure. But, to my way of tasting, it is another fact that caviar, wherever it comes from and Champagne do nothing for each other.

So what about a sparkling cocktail instead? With a taste to harmonise or contrast with the caviar’s intense, slightly sweet, moderately salty fishiness and a look likewise: either pure water white or blue-black. Leastways a combination that would survive the encounter itself while leaving the palate pristine after every sip.

Light or dark?
At which point the problems kicked-in. For a ‘white’ drink the obvious choice of base spirit base spirit seemed to be Vodka. After all, the Russians drink it with caviar all the time, don’t they. The trouble is, as I knew very well, any Vodka mixed with any bubbly is almost as nasty as any bubbly mixed with Gin. So I tried White Brandy (Armagnac Blanche), but the taste ‘fell apart’ in the mix. And White Rum was another disappointment: merely muting the acidity of the bubbly, which it is essential to keep.

What did work was pure agave Tequila Branco! Its crisp vegetal heart contributing just enough spice to contrast with the grape quality of the wine.

As to the auditions for a slate- coloured mix, it was Rye Whisky, not Bourbon nor any Malt – which proved best. This didn’t surprise me. What did, was the discovery that the only acceptable way to get blue into the recipes wasn’t via Blue Curacao – always too little colour, always too many weird back-tastes – but blue food dye. As they did in the Roaring ‘20s. A very little though, because the modern stuff is far more vivid than the old vegetable extracts.

As to the bubbly, Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) was the obvious choice. Chiefly for its paleness. What you want is something full-bodied and winey, but not aromatic. The taste needs to sort of sidle onto your palate after the spirit has done its cleansing job. I found I got equally good results with another item in that showcase, Cremela Recas classic method sparkling Chardonnay, from Romania, and an old favourite of mine, Mandois Champagne Blanc de Blancs.

30ml Tequila Branco
½ Teaspoon orange bitters
½ Teaspoon lemon juice
Few drops blue food dye
Twist of lemon rind (in shaker)
Shake with ice. Strain into flute glass
Fill with Brut bubbly, stir briefly,
top with a dash of Parfait Amour

25 ml Tequila Branco
2 Teaspoons Curacao
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
Few drops blue dye
Shake with ice, strain into flute glass.
Fill with brut bubbly, stir

Saturate sugar cube with Peychaud and
orange bitters, plus a few drops blue dye
Drop into flute glass.
Separately shake with ice:
30 ml Rye Whisky
10 ml Parfait Amour
Strain into glass
Fill with brut bubbly, stir once

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’.