New Year’s has been celebrated for nearly, well, forever. Actually four millennia, according to historical records — it began as a Babylonian celebration in March before Julius Caesar commanded the date of January 1 in 46 B.C. Of course, during that vast length of time, various traditions have evolved around the world, but in the United States, one New Year’s tradition has become a requirement. No, not the ball drop or a kiss at midnight, but a toast of Champagne.
A slender stemmed glass with rising bubbles is the emblem of celebration, and as midnight rolls around it is customary to fill a flute, raise it high, and ring in the new year. But what do you drink when the Champagne flute has emptied?
The options truly are endless. But New Year’s Eve is not a time to refill your glass with any old cocktail; it’s a night to continue the millennia-old tradition of celebrating renewal, winter, and all you hope to have in store by drinking something special.
“In December there are all these sweet cocktails, but on New Year’s we should be drinking something citrusy and a little lighter, not heavy-handed,” says Patrick Benison, bartender at A Voce and former barback at The Beagle. “Fruit baskets are common gifts around the holidays, and they’re typically filled with oranges, grapefruits, and pineapples.” Using that citrus in drinks, he notes, speaks to the notion of cleansing for a new beginning. “There’s a great classic cocktail that The Beagle did perfectly called the Prince of Wales that makes good use of pineapple.” The cocktail requires muddling pine-apple with bitters, maraschino liqueur, and rye whiskey, a sweet and smoky way to begin 2014.
Sarah Morrissey, a bartender at Dutch Kills in Long Island City, recommends a fizz for your New Year’s celebration. “They look like snow,” she says, seeing the cocktail as representing the chilly, wintery New Year of the East Coast. “One really classic cocktail Dutch Kill makes is the Peach Blow Fizz, with egg whites, strawberries, cream, lemon, lime, simple syrup, and gin. Or if you want a more masculine fizz, there’s the Morning Glory Fizz, with scotch, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and an absinthe rinse.”
The origins of drinking Champagne on New Year’s go back — no surprise — to France, and the custom is loosely associated with drinking something fine enough for the gods, a remnant of the holiday’s religious significance back in the Babylonian days. As the opulence and price of Champagne rose in the early 19th century, so did public reverence for the effervescent spirit. But we’ve come a long way since then, and there is surely more on cocktail menus and in home bars to create mixed drinks decadent enough for deities, and you.
“A new year should be about trying new things,” Benison says. “In terms of cocktails, a lot of new things are happening. For instance, more people are using amaros and sherry. This will be a big year for vermouth and fortified wine, too.” Many former cocktail fads are coming back into fashion.
“People are going back to grass roots,” says Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit. If out at a bar for New Year’s, McGarry recommends a throwback: a Turf Club Martini, the godfather of classic cocktails. “It’s a favorite of mine,” he says of the vermouth-heavy concoction. Ask any well-trained bartender around the city, he advises, and they should be able to make it for you.
As for New Year’s at home, McGarry has one simple suggestion: punch. “My biggest thing is punch, gathering in your home with friends. Punch is a big revelation of this year because people are starting to take it seriously. There are so many good recipes that are easy to make, and you can drink it throughout the course of the night. You don’t get too drunk too fast. Plus, there are very few bells and whistles involved. It’s not as complicated as cocktails. If I was throwing a New Year’s party, I would make it for everybody.”
Whether you’re out on the town or gathering with friends, try something new, fresh, or fizzy to refill your glass for the coming year.
Prince of Wales
from The Beagle
1 dash Angostura bitters
1-inch fresh pineapple cube
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 bar spoon maraschino liqueur
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
Muddle all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a coupe glass, and top with Champagne; garnish with a lemon peel twist.
Peach Blow Fizz
by Sarah Morrissey at Dutch Kill
1 or 2 strawberries
1 egg white
1/2 ounce cream
3/4 ounce simple syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce lime juice
2 ounces gin
Muddle the strawberries, then add all ingredients except club soda into shaker. Shake without ice and then with ice, strain, and serve in a fizz glass. Wait one minute for the drink to settle, then top with club soda. Garnish with a strawberry.