“Pretty much any drink can be improved by adding some bubbles,” says Seattle bartender Abigail Gullo. Many bartenders agree, and, of late, the abundance of spritzes and royales at bars across the country proves the point. Gullo notes that a sparkling cocktail is often someone’s first or last drink in a night, so it should make a good impression—and be fun, of course. Meanwhile, New York bartender Michael Aredes insists: “Not all bubbles are equal,” meaning, it’s just as important to be thoughtful and choose something of quality that will complement your base flavors.
Here, several tips and tricks from the pros to building a better sparkling cocktail.
The Right Ingredients
“I do like to make sure the sweetness level and body of the wine is complementary to the flavors in the cocktail,” says Gullo, when she considers what should go into a sparkling drink. “Citrus and bright, light flavors are obvious, but bitter flavors cut through the bubbles quite nicely as well,” she says. She often pairs a prosecco, like the zippy offering from MARTINI & ROSSI®, with bitter amari or sweet vermouth. New York bartender Stacey Swenson also goes for citrus, as well as red bitters, baking spices, tropical fruits, and florals, like elderflower, jasmine and hibiscus. Berries with sparkling rosé is another of her go-to combos. Aredes advises caution with acidic or overly bitter flavors. A sparkling drink, he says, “is supposed to be pleasingly [fresh] and shouldn’t have you making crazy faces.”
The Right Way to Riff
“Take a classic and top it with bubbles,” says Gullo. “That’s how the The Last Word became The Last Laugh. A Corpse Reviver No. 2 gets revived with some bubbles.” She also likes to match the Gold Rush’s toasted honey flavor with bubbles. Consider topping a Cosmo with sparkling wine, or swap out soda in an Americano for a tall, royale-style highball.
The Right Temperature
Of course, any good cocktail should be well-chilled, but temperature is especially important when it comes to sparkling drinks. Daniel Kutch, MARTINI & ROSSI East Coast brand ambassador, says that while carbonation is expected to diminish over time naturally, you can make those bubbles last longer by keeping your components (including glassware) as cold as possible.
The Right Batch
Batching a sparkling drink may seem tricky, but with a few tweaks, it’s actually quite simple. “I will batch brunch cocktails in a soda siphon to carbonate the whole drink,” says Gullo. For her part, Swenson won’t batch with the sparkling component unless it will be served immediately. “The exception to this [is] punches,” she says. “If I top a punch with a sparkling component, I give it a gentle stir, and then top it off every now and again.” Sometimes Gullo will forgo mixing bubbles in at all, serving a batched base with a split of sparkling wine on the side. “It’s like getting the mixing tin with extra milkshake inside,” she says.
The Right Integration
A sparkling cocktail is almost always made so by topping the drink with the effervescent ingredient. But it’s key to make sure that the sparkle is integrated with the rest of the drink. “Don’t just top up a cocktail with your bubbles,” says Kutch. Swenson says that, for shaken drinks, she shakes the rest of her ingredients together, adds the sparkling element to the tin, then gently pours it into the glass. “This will ensure that the ingredients incorporate, rather than layer.” For stirred drinks, she adds the sparkling component to the glass first, then the spirit. “Because most spirits have more density, they will sink and incorporate on their own,” Swenson notes. “If you add the spirit first, then the sparkling, the components will layer, and you’ll have to stir to incorporate—which will kill some of those beautiful bubbles.”
The Right Garnish
A simple length of orange or lemon peel is classic on a single-serve drink, but when Swenson makes sparkling punches, she goes with abundance: citrus wheels, cranberries, blueberries, cinnamon sticks, star anise pods, edible flowers, pomegranate seeds. Gullo also goes festive, with edible flowers frozen in ice cubes; on occasion, she even dips into her cache of Electricdust for a colorful, shimmery rim that reflects the effervescence of the liquid inside.