Unlike more traditional cocktail categories, like that of the julep or the buck, the royale does not conform to a template of set ingredients or prescribed ratios. Historically a Champagne-topped twist on a pre-existing drink recipe, the royale is less formula than it is embellishment—a sparkling crown for your cocktail, if you will.
The royale finds its roots some time in the 17th century, when it was common practice for drink makers to occasionally call on wine in place of ale in beer-based cocktails. In the case of the Purl (a wormwood-infused, ale-based drink), for example, substituting wine—even non-sparkling—would constitute a Purl Royal, explains David Wondrich in Punch. In modern mixology, Champagne or sparkling wine has become the preferred addition, and “royal” has appropriately become “royale.”
While any cocktail can, with proper treatment, become a royale, rarely does the sparkling addendum outshine its classic forebear. That isn’t the case, however, with the Kir Royale, easily the most well-known in this school of drinks. Born in the 19th century as a bubbly alternative to the French aperitif cocktail, the Kir (which is made with cassis and still white wine), the Kir Royale has succeeded in becoming a popular menu item in its own right rather than an afterthought.
Here, two of history’s best known royales and their modern interpretations.
Just as the Kir Royale swaps in Champagne for the still white wine used in the more traditional Kir, the classic Negroni Sbagliato replaces gin with Prosecco for a spritzier version of the stirred, Italian original. Other more modern royales, however, call on sparkling wine not as a replacement, but as an effective topper. The Royal Pimm’s Cup is fairly self-explanatory, while other original drinks are less so: Audrey Saunders’ Old Cuban, for example, builds on a Mojito-like base of rum and mint, while Ivy Mix’s Latin-inspired Da Hora reads like a sparkling Caipirinha.
The Punch Royale can refer to many recipes, all of which, according to Dale DeGroff, called for Champagne, but it’s not to be confused with Punch Royal, a better known historic punch with a still wine base. The Champagne-topped Regent Punch is more precisely defined; in addition to its brandy and rum foundation, it most often sees added flavors of pineapple and green tea alongside the requisite addition of Champagne. Today’s variations on the large-format royale draw from a variety of inspirations. At Smuggler’s Cove, for example, the Hibiscus Punch Royale builds on the bar’s ever-popular Hibiscus Rum Punch—itself a riff on the Caribbean classic Spiced Hibiscus Punch—while Prime Meats’ So Long, Sweet Summer and Embers Ski Lodge’s Ajax Punch apply the royale treatment to a base of strong spirit and fresh seasonal ingredients.