New Years Eve is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. There are a few drinking holidays but none quite like this one. It is the time when we collectively let go of the year behind us and look forward to the great unknown of the year beyond. A lot of times we celebrate specific things like a birth, a graduation, a retirement but New Years is as if we’re celebrating life itself. The whole thing. New Years wraps up all of the sorrow and joy of being human and honors it with laughter, singing, drinking, and fireworks.
As much as I’d like to write a blog post about celebrating humanity and the practice of turning a leaf to the next page of our collective lives, this is a blog about other things. Given that, the question I want to answer here is: “What do I drink on New Years Eve?”
We humans have been drinking for New Years since at least as far back as the Romans. What we drank, however, has changed over time. For the last hundred years or so, the western world has decidedly settled on Champagne and for good reason. Champagne is kind of like the fireworks of alcohol (before fireworks, it was customary to shoot guns in the air through the night).
Aside from the novelty of hearing the “pop” of the cork, Champagne has this way of making our insides feel fuzzy, warm, and dare I say… bubbly? It also has a “fancy” aspect to it which makes it the perfect addition to a celebration full of superstition about the future. It’s kind of like saying “may your year be full of fancy things like this Champagne.” Besides that, I just like drinking Champagne on New Years Eve because I love Champagne and almost never drink the stuff. Any excuse I can have for drinking Champagne I will happily run with.
If you are looking to branch out from straight Champagne for your New Years celebration there are dozens of delicious cocktails with Champagne that will tickle your tipple. Listed below are three of my favorites.
If you break it down, a French 75 is a Tom Collins with Champagne instead of seltzer, making it a very easy drink to remember how to make. For me, this is a quintessential Champagne drink. The combination of sour and gin is a love song to citrus. I could never figure out if this drink is more appropriate for brunch or dinner so I would recommend drinking it any time of day.
1.5 oz Gin
.75 oz lemon
.5 oz simple syrup
Shake Gin, lemon and simple syrup with ice
Double strain into coupe
Top with Champagne
Garnish with lemon twist
How to describe the exact flavor profile of this drink has always eluded me. It tastes like so much and so little at the same time. I’ve always thought of this as essentially a Champagne Old Fashioned and if you think about the history of the term cocktail it actually makes a lot of sense. Because of this, I truly believe a Champagne Cocktail is right for everyone. It is the place where a Kir Royal drinker and Rye Old Fashioned drinker can come together. For this reason it is a great choice for a holiday which brings everyone together.
The first sighting of this cocktail was in 1862 and has gone through many renditions since then. The modern cocktail community has uniformly looked to the original recipe as the authoritative version so if you order this drink from any respectable cocktail bar you will get the version listed below.
Aromatic bitters (Exorcism)
Fill a Champagne flute 3/4 of the way with Champagne
Soak a sugar cube with aromatic bitters (Exorcism)
Drop sugar cube into coupe
Death in the Afternoon
I love Death in the Afternoons. This drink is definitely for the more adventurous and slightly unhinged. It is also a great way to introduce yourself or your friends to absinthe. Absinthe can be enjoyed in a plethora of ways and, for me, this is one of the more elegant. Traditionally, it is served sans sugar cube but I included it in this recipe to help bridge the gap for drinkers not used to the symphony of flavors that this simple cocktail offers us.
.75 oz Absinthe
Pour Absinthe in chilled coupe
Top with Champagne
Drop in sugar cube right before serving
A note on Champagne:
Fermentation of sugar into alcohol creates gas. While the fermentation process is underway the gas gurgles up and expels into the air. Once the yeast have had their fun eating up all the sugar they can, there will be no more yeast and therefore no more gas.
If you bottle something before it is done fermenting, it can continue to ferment inside the bottle. With no where for the gas to go, the pressure will build up and the gas will incorporate into the alcoholic beverage rather than release into the air. Viola, you have a naturally effervescent beverage. There was a time when bubbles was an undesirable characteristic for a bottle of wine. Naturally this caused a lot of grief for wine producers who were trying hard to control a process that they could do relatively little about. This was until a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon (the one you’re thinking of) took a more scientific approach to this process. Rather than avoid the natural process, he found a ways to harness it and make the bubbles work for him. While he did not create sparkling wine, he did lay the groundwork for the beverage that we today know and love called Champagne.
Champagne producers usually add a little sugar to their bubbly before bottling. Given that Champagne is naturally extremely sour, sugar is a necessary additive to help us taste the nuance in the wine. There are seven categories for wine from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi Sec, and Doux. While Brut is definitely the most common on the market, it doesn’t hurt to know your own sweetness preference.
The last thing I will mention about Champagne is glassware. Tulip shaped Champagne flutes are generally the go to for all things sparkling wine. There are some good reasons for this: it directs aroma to the nose and it keeps the wine effervescent for longer. If you are in the market for trying something new, I would recommended departing from the traditional flute and trying out coupes for your New Years toast. From my experience, it is generally a more rugged and versatile glass. It will be much less likely to break in the dishwasher and you can use it for cocktails as well. It also does the trick for me aesthetically. Nothing says party like a tower of bubbling coups.
Cheers, Happy New Years, and may your 2020’s be as lively as the 1920’s.