Though there are thousands of champagne cocktail recipes, there are only two ways to make one – champagne as a major ingredient or as a topper. Adam Hodak, managing partner at Bonanno Concepts, says that over time, champagne cocktails have become more complex. The original concept was the traditional sugar cube with orange bitters and topped with a nice splash of champagne.
Today, a frequently made champagne cocktail is a new take on something called a French 75, traditionally made with cognac, gin, sugar, citrus and sparkling wine. At Bonanno Concepts, Hodack uses housemade syrups that give the drink a seasonal touch. For instance, a Valencia blood orange gives a rich, red color and a beautiful fresh flavor for a winter champagne cocktail.
Kevin Burke, bar manager at Colt & Gray, also has a French 75 champagne cocktail – called The Day Spa. It is big on floral flavors from Cap Rock Gin from Hotchkiss, Earl Gray tea, along with a tart lemon, dry grapefuit, egg white for body and a splash of prosecco.
Burke says when deciding which sparkling wine or champagne to use, sample it first. “I go by the Julia Child rule, don’t use anything in a recipe that you wouldn’t drink by itself,” he says. Both Hodack and Burke agree that there are some very good proseccos on the market these days, so don’t disregard them. Zonin Prosecco is a local Denver favorite, winning a gold medal at the Denver International Wine Competition in 2012. Cavas from Spain are also up-and-coming bubbly treats. Burke likes Mercat Brut Nature Cava for its fine bubbles and dry, almost astringent refreshing flavor. “It makes lighter food flavors pop,” he said.
Though champagne cocktails are usually something ordered before a meal, Hodack said that sparkling wine and champagne are incredibly versatile to drink with appetizers like meat and cheese or a main dish of seafood, sushi and desserts like lemon raspberry tarts or poached pears.
Burke says that in Denver, champagne cocktails are somewhat of a gateway drink to trying sparkling wine and champagnes by themselves. He encourages Denverites to try some of the newer growers producing their own champagne and sparkling wine. “It’s farm to table at its best,” he says.
Here are some top spots for a champagne cocktail in Denver, and one a bit beyond:
Try the French 75, made with Plymouth Gin, fresh lemon juice and topped with champagne.
1553 Platte St.
Try The Day Spa, with Colorado Gin, bergamot Earl Gray tea, grapefruit and lemon, topped with sparkling wine.
1530 16th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Ask for the aperol champagne cocktail, just the right amount of bitter aperol and dry bubbly prosecco.
Z Cuisine & À Côté
2239 W. 30th Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
Ask for the Boulevard St-Germain, with Goat vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Berentzen pear liqueur and champagne.
16 Vail Road
Vail, CO 81657
Try a cool champagne cocktail by the fire, with fresh berries, St. Germain and sparkling wine.
Kimberly Lord Stewart is a food author and journalist for CBS Denver local, Organic Food Reporter for Examiner.com, and the Food, Wine and Spirits editor for Denver Life magazine. Her book, “Eating Between the Lines” tells readers about the truth and myths of food labeling. Stewart is the recipient of two Association of Food Journalist awards for food news reporting and the Jessie Neal Business Journalism award. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.