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Critical drinking

Rose-colored glasses

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and nothing says celebration and romance like rose-colored champagne cocktails! Sure to please bitter hearts and bitters fans alike, the basic construct of each drink are aromatic and potable bitters. No matter what your relationship status is, at least you will have something new and interesting to drink. Having spent almost two years behind the bar at Cure in the public market, I have had

a great deal of requests for the gin- and lemon-based French 75s. Every brunch drinker in Rochester is familiar with the mimosa and the bellini, and as we covered recently, there is the ever-so-delicious Aperol spritz. But the bubbles don’t stop there! So, for this Valentine’s Day, let us explore some lesser-known, equally delightful bubbly beauties. 

For the sweethearts: The champagne cocktail was invented by Jerry Thomas. His 1887 version in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks is the recipe most commonly used today and the one I will be referring to. Simply place a sugar cube in a champagne flute, soak it in Angostura bitters, and top with a champagne of your choosing. Not only does it get sweeter and more flavorful with each sip, but also watching the bubbles stream to the top as the sugar cube dissolves is mesmerizing. As cocktail historian David Wondrich notes, “don’t use loose sugar or try to crush the cube—the whole point isn’t so much to sweeten the drink as to create bubbles, which the cube will do as it slowly dissolves.”

For the bitter hearted: If you prefer a slightly more elevated and balanced drink, try the Negroni spagliato, a variation that keeps the Campari and sweet vermouth, omits the gin, and substitutes sparkling wine. The word spagliato in Italian means “mess.” So as one can probably guess, the Negroni spagliato was serendipity, and any bartender who has worked a busy shift can probably empathize with quickly grabbing the wrong bottle. How one confuses sparkling wine with gin, I am not sure, but thus is the story of how the Negroni spagliato came to be. If you are a fan of big brother Negroni, this lower alcohol-by-volume bubbly refresher will be your new favorite Valentine’s Day (or everyday!) drink of choice. 

For the fickle hearted: The Seelbach cocktail is named after the Seelbach Hotel, a storied century-old lodging in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, that is mentioned briefly in The Great Gatsby. In the 1990s a new head bartender, Adam Seger, declared that he had discovered a recipe for a pre-Prohibition cocktail that was once the hotel’s signature drink. He tested it, liked it, and put it on the menu. Media soon picked up the story, and the Seelbach cocktail was famed as a rescued classic. Twenty years later, Seger finally admitted in the New York Times that he made up the whole story. The bartender confessed that he wanted to make a name for himself while promoting the bar. Seger even went as far to create a fake story of the signature drink’s creation, detailing a clumsy bartender accidentally spilling champagne into a Manhattan. 

Whether out to dinner or curled up on your couch, enjoy your lovely (or bitter) Valentine’s Day by taking your bubbly game to the next level. Adding just one or two ingredients to your favorite champagne, cava, prosecco, or other sparkling wine changes everything—and, as always, don’t be afraid to experiment with bitters and liqueurs of your own!  


Dara Stern is a bartender at Cure and the secretary for the local Rochester Chapter of the United States Bartender Guild.

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