The holidays are sparkling wine season: More bottles are popped from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than at any other time.
Champagne toasts are all well and good, but savvy operators rise above the bubbly fray with creative cocktails that are unique and profitable.
The best wines for sparkling cocktails are dry and crisp, leaving room to add sweetness through additional ingredients, such as syrups and shrubs, says Gen Longoria, lead bartender at The Outsider and Tre Rivali in Milwaukee. “I look for balance in sparkling cocktails. I want the tight bubbles from the wine to carry the other flavors across my palate,” she says.
By pairing affordable sparkling wines with standout ingredients, beverage pros can create memorable holiday cocktails with low food costs and high profit margins.
Keep Costs in Check with Prosecco
Prosecco can serve as the base for profitable holiday beverages. Knightsbridge Restaurant Group in Washington, D.C., for example, swaps bubbly for gin in the Sbagliato, a twist on the classic Negroni. “I’d love to use Champagne, but it’s cost-prohibitive, and the drink actually benefits from the sweetness of the prosecco,” says Group General Manager Michael King. “Using Champagne in a cocktail will almost triple the cost. Most guests don’t want to pay for a cocktail that costs more than $15.”
By adding crafted bitters, pomegranate juice and elderflower liqueur to vodka and prosecco, Minneapolis’ FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar elevates the typical wintry tipple prosecco, which in turn helps keep costs down while maintaining a softer and less yeasty flavor. The bar also reduces costs by adding splashes of expensive and less expensive ingredients (like juices) to form the body of its drinks.
Rolando Gomez Jr., head bartender for the MINA Group’s Bourbon Steak and Bourbon Pub at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, also gets crafty with drams, bitters and extracts to jazz up the fizzy formula of sparking cocktails while keeping pricing reasonable with prosecco. His Rain, Sleet and Bubbly features High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, pomegranate juice, old-fashioned bitters, peppermint extract, Demerara and prosecco. “We opt for prosecco because it’s made in the tank method, rendering bigger bubbles than if it were made using the Champagne method,” Gomez says. “This gives the cocktail more texture, along with delivering top quality at a great value to our guests.”
Catch on to the Cava Kick
The Spanish sparkling wine is another popular, cost-effective alternative to Champagne. At Trinity in New Orleans, Beverage Director Adam Orzechowski creates his Borscht & Bubbles with a mid-range vodka, Suze, beet and lemon syrup, and an ounce or two of cava. He opts for cava over Champagne for its lower price point but he also prefers its softer flavor.
“Along with most bubbly cocktails, it’s a great money-making drink,” Orzechowski says. “It returns a pretty nice profit margin—and guests love it.”
Jason Montero of Sabio on Main in Pleasanton, California, turns to NV Cava by Paul Cheneau to boost sales for the holidays. Made in the traditional method of Champagne, it sports all the flavorful bubbles without the accompanying sticker shock. The drink, which includes cranberry and pomegranate juices, cranberry garnishes and a lemon twist, costs $14 per glass and “pays for the bottle almost three times off of its first pour,” Montero says.
The Just the Two Of Us cocktail available at Graze in Madison, Wisconsin, turns a profit without cutting corners on high-quality ingredients. The drink, which costs about $3.50 to make, features cognac, locally sourced apple brandy, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters and cava, the sparkler of choice for its dry quality and clean finish. Bar Manager William Schaeffer says Graze also drives profitability by hedging the expensive nature of finer spirits and ensuring that drinks are fresh, effervescent and very drinkable, thus reducing waste.
Think Premium Ingredients
For operators set on Champagne over sparkling wines, creating an experience can spur intrigue.
Sparkling cocktails are the bread and butter at Releve Champagne Lounge in the Loews Minneapolis Hotel. Capitalizing on the popularity of all things bubbly and custom cocktails, Releve offers a “Create Your Own Champagne Cocktail at the Bitter Bar,” which uses the traditional Champagne cocktail as the framework and allows guests to supplement and
customize with the help of bartenders. A selection of more than 40 bitters, liquors, digestives and flavors ups the ante on sparkling sippers, says Executive Assistant Manager Geneya Sauro.
At Garde East in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, Beverage Manager Erica Doudna spins off classic cocktails with Death Under the Mistletoe, her riff on the classic Death in the Afternoon. “I’d do an absinthe rinse, bar spoon of cranberry syrup and top with Champagne, garnished with brandy-soaked cranberries,” she says. Because absinthe and cranberries have strong flavor profiles, the wine selection isn’t paramount. For a value-conscious option, Doudna would select one made using the classic method and aged long enough to give the wine a Champagne-like flavor profile.
“A cava like Segura Viudas can be a great low-cost replacement,” she says. “But if you’re selling at a higher price point, you’d better be using actual Champagne.”