Looking around the bar trying to conjure a few new cocktails to ring in the new year, I began thinking about what constitutes a good New Year's Eve drink.
Usually, I prefer the kind of cocktail that will belly up to the bar with you and linger, the kind of drink you can hold close and whisper to. But for a night like New Year's Eve, a night of notorious chaos and constant motion, I believe we're looking for a libation a little lighter on her feet.
This isn't the girl you want to talk to in hushed tones; this is the girl that's gonna grab you by your tie and drag you onto the dance floor. With that in mind, I set out to lighten up a few classics with a couple playful twists, a little champagne, and some bright seasonal fruit to keep it crisp.
1. Southside of France
This cocktail brings in elements of two classics: The Southside and The French 75. It's an effervescent mix of gin, sparkling wine, fresh lemon, sugar and mint, and it looks great all dolled up in a champagne glass.
1½ oz gin
¾ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
¾ oz simple syrup
5-6 mint leaves
1-2 oz champagne
Combine gin, lemon, simple and mint in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Strain into a champagne glass and top with champagne. Garnish with a single mint leaf by rubbing the rim of the glass and then dropping gently into the drink.
2. Aperol Negroni
To my mind, the classic Negroni is a nearly perfect cocktail, but it's also a perfect example of the situation I described above. It's a little too serious for the occasion. With less alcohol and less bitter astringency than the traditional Campari, Aperol brings in sweeter, brighter notes. The Aperol Negroni takes a beautiful, yet familiar, old friend, and slips her into something a little more comfortable.
1 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Aperol
Combine all ingredients in an ice filled mixing glass. Stir until the glass is cold in your hand. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of orange peel by rubbing the peel pith side up along the rim of the glass then dropping it pith side down into the glass .
3. Sushine in Winter
The key to this simple drink is the use of a bright winter fruit that just looks ever-so-cute on the rim of a cocktail glass: the kumquat. For everyone that loves a fruity vodka drink, but wants to keep their cocktails seasonal, this one's for you.
2 oz vodka
1 oz simple
½ oz fresh lime juice
Place 2 kumquats into a mixing glass. Add lime juice and muddle until the kumquats burst open and smash against the bottom of the glass. Add the simple and vodka. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a one whole kumquat sliced almost halfway through so that it slides onto the rim of the glass.
4. Hemmingway in Jalisco
This is little play on the classic Hemmingway Daiquiri substituting blanco tequila for white rum. The touch of bitterness from the Maraschino Liqueur perfectly balances the big flavors of grapefruit and agave.
2 oz Tequila Blanco
½ oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of grapefruit peel by rubbing the peel pith side up along the rim of the glass, twisting it in your fingers and dropping it pith side down into the glass.
5. Beyond Good and Evil (Revised)
This cocktail requires a bit more work than the rest. But its use of winter fruit and its encouragement to abandon everyday social conventions strike me as rendering it perfectly appropriate for any hearty New Year's Eve celebration. Quince, perhaps the original forbidden fruit, is complemented by sweet bourbon and bitter Campari.
1½ oz bourbon
½ oz Campari
½ oz lemon juice
Teaspoon full of quince compote*
½ oz rosemary simple syrup**
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the crown of a rosemary sprig.
* To make quince compote, boil peeled and cored quince, in just enough sweetened water to cover the fruit, until soft. Puree.
** To make rosemary simple, simmer rosemary in sugar and water to taste. Strain.
Bryan Shoffit is a mixologist at 15 Romolo in San Francisco.
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