Everything is better, shinier and happier with a little fizz. Ditto that for alcohol, which F. Scott Fitzgerald deemed “the world’s rose-colored glasses.” Logic holds, then, that fizzy alcohol is doubly special, and goes a long way towards explaining the vaunted place that champagne has claimed since time immemorial. All the same, there are times when bubbly seems far too stiff, more opera-society-botox-queen than chandelier-swinging-good-time-gal. What’s a reveler to do?
Consider the champagne cocktail as an anti-stiffness antidote. On ordinary occasions, sipping champagne smacks of lily-gilding and bad taste. Yet when excess is warranted – such as now, as the holiday season looms – a champagne cocktail feels just right.
Classically, a champagne cocktail involves only bubbly, bitters and a sugar cube. In sum, it’s still a bit tame.
Of course, in our 21st century, we needn’t be strictly loyal to champagne when reviving the champagne cocktail. French champagne may have been the best or most common sparkling wine a century ago, but that’s no longer the case. Today we have a wealth of other worthwhile effervescents like Spanish cava and Italian prosecco, not to mention greater enthusiasm for busting stale traditions. We can and should drink more globally.
Here in Providence, the Duck and Bunny (known to regulars as simply “the D&B”) has done much to raise sparkling wine’s profile as a cocktail ingredient. Sparkling wines are the bedrock of its short but well-curated cocktail list, in fact, which reflects inventiveness born of necessity. The D&B operates with a limited liquor license, which means there can be no hard liquor, and no liquor-based cocktails. No Martinis. No Manhattans. Forget Sidecars, Old Fashioneds and Gimlets.
Rather than serve plain, old beer and wine only, the D&B’s winsome bartender, Caleigh McGrath, leveraged culinary wisdom to spin them into mixed drinks. “Using the kitchen as a tool was a huge step for me,” McGrath recalls, explaining that favorite dishes provided a basis to understand flavor combinations and recreate them in a glass. A cupcake that features lavender, vanilla and buttermilk, for instance, inspired McGrath’s namesake “Caleigh” cocktail, which embellishes prosecco with lavender-vanilla simple syrup and a small handful of blueberries. The restaurant’s herb garden led to a basil-infused “Chamisa” cocktail, which floats the herb in prosecco with fresh pear and raw sugar. And a new wintertime installment, christened the “Black Cider Incinerator,” pairs sparkling shiraz with chilled, mulled cider. Developed by fellow D&B employee Mike Duffy of the band Black Oil Incinerator, the drink is a peculiar and warming riff on a very old, and very English, holiday-season staple.
Running the gamut from sweet to spicy, these sparkling cocktails share a resistance to the ordinary, outdoing humdrum champagne and the classic champagne cocktail. Lingering skeptics, remember this: nothing rings in a holiday like a little excess and heresy. Moderation? Piety? All in good time.