Among the oldest of pre-Prohibition classics, the Champagne cocktail also represents a nearly effortless way to ease into the holiday spirit. The original recipe for this elegant refreshment called for shaking or stirring a blend of sugar, bitters, and Champagne with ice, which of course resulted in a chilly but decidedly unbubbly drink. However, in the 19th century, savvy bartenders happened upon the sugar cube and stopped stirring entirely. The dramatic presentation of a slowly dissolving bitters-soaked sugar cube has kept many entertained through the last two centuries.
That is not to say, however, that there has not been some tinkering with the original since its arrival. Barkeeps have been known to throw in a few bracing ounces of brandy or Cognac. And brunch favorites like the Bellini and the mimosa may tip their top hats to the Champagne cocktail. But serious modern mixologists are reinterpreting the recipe with different types of bitters—and recommending that home experimenters do, too.
“With bitters, a few drops go a long way. It’s fun. Different types of bitters with Champagne and a sugar cube—you have a nice drink,” Lafranconi says.
In fact, bitters have surged in popularity during the last few years, including centuries-old formulations becoming available again and new formulations debuting, such as holiday fruit favorites like cranberry.
1 sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters
1/2 oz. VSOP Cognac
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier
4 oz. chilled brut Champagne
Place the bitters-soaked sugar cube into a chilled Champagne flute or Champagne saucer. Pour Cognac and Grand Marnier into the glass. Top with Champagne, taking care to pour slowly. Garnish with orange or lemon peel and strawberry slices.
By Bridget Albert
4 1/4-inch slices peeled kiwifruit
Juice of 1 lime wedge
1 sugar cube
4 oz. chilled prosecco
Splash of triple sec (70 to 80 proof)
2 drops orange bitters
Muddle kiwifruit, lime juice, and sugar cube in mixing glass. Add prosecco and 1 cup of ice. Stir gently for few seconds, then strain into a flute. Add orange bitters on top of cocktail and garnish with a kiwi slice.
(Note: Flavor profile will vary slightly depending on the brand of orange bitters.)
By Francesco Lafranconi
1 oz. Absolut Pears vodka
1 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur
Chilled Champagne or prosecco
1/2 oz. Leopold Bros. New England cranberry liqueur
Add vodka, St-Germain, and 1 cup of ice to a mixing glass. Stir quickly for about five seconds, then strain into a Champagne flute and top off with Champagne or prosecco. Float cranberry liqueur on top. Gently squeeze lemon peel into cocktail to release the oils, and garnish with a cranberry dusted with Oro Fino 23-karat edible gold.