Champagne Alternatives: Low ABV Cocktails for New Year’s EveBy Brad Japhe
An estimated 400 million glasses of sparkling wine will be raised on New Year’s Eve. It would be unwise to argue with the celebratory nature of champagne. Something about popping bottles really gets people going. By why let bubbly hog all the glory? There are, of course, a multitude of champagne alternatives out there. Particularly if you’re partial to liquor. The holiday season is no time to be basic. As the ball lowers, hold your spirits high.
LOW ABV IS THE BEE’S KNEES
New Year’s Eve parties are characterized by prolonging drinking. So if you’re holding booze in your chalice—as opposed to wine—you’re going need to keep the alcohol moderated to sustain yourself through the night. “It also needs to be citrus forward,” according to Chicago-based bartender Sophie Huterstein. “It brightens your day and keeps you going. It’s the reason I get up in the morning.”
While most bars plow through plenty of champagne this time of year, she recommends keeping vivacious with the Botanical Bee’s Knees. It works a tea-infused Breakfast Gin from FEW Spirits into a mix of lemon juice, lavender, honey shrub and tea bitters. Served in a teacup, it encourages slow sipping with pinkies out, while adding a much-needed pep to your step.
In Los Angeles, Brynn Smith serves up her own Bee’s Knees variation. “Low-ABV is my kind of cocktail,” she admits. “Aperol at 11% is where it’s at. I like using it as a base or at least half of the booze measurement in a cocktail.” She uses the aperitif as a substitute for gin. You can easily recreate it in your home bar using the following measurements:
“3/4 oz. lemon, 3/4 oz. honey, 1 oz. Aperol, 1 oz. gin—or just 2 oz. Aperol, and no gin would be delightful as well.”
KEEP IT CORDIAL
Liqueur cocktails are an obvious way to keep things light and easy as the evening wears on. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be complex. Italicus is an aromatic sipper built around bergamot and citrus. At 20% alcohol, it blends beautifully against the bitterness of a west coast style pale ale in a concoction known as the IPAlicus. “Even as someone who doesn’t really like beer, the IPAlicus is freaking delicious,” contends Haley Forest, brand ambassador. “The Italicus brightens up the beer similar to a shandy, but with more nuanced flavor.”
And it couldn’t be simpler to make at home: 3 parts IPA, 1 part Italicus, served on the rocks with a lemon twist.
SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE WITH LESS SUGAR
Sugar is the secret culprit behind the pounding headache that plagues so many drinkers on the first morning of the new year. Sparkling wine is literally dosed with it, and if you’re drinking that stuff all night long, the combination of sweet and alcohol is a one-way ticket to Hangover City. Avoid that fate by mixing amari or other lower-alcohol alternatives with plain club soda, over ice. “I use Bénédictine or Bràulio and soda water,” explains Brynn Smith. To this she adds a lemon zest and repeats as necessary. Now you’re getting the effervescence you associate with celebration but with less cloying sweetness. Tickle your tongue tonight and your brain will thank you in the morning.