Around the holidays—most especially post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s Eve—I am approached with endless requests for champagne-based cocktails. Yet until a few years ago, I almost always disappointed all of those who asked. If for no other reason than I couldn’t name too many champagne-based cocktails appropriate for late December or that I thought tasted particularly great.
For me, it was basically the French 75 or bust. I know, I know, everyone loves the champagne cocktail. But I consider it a pointless concoction of champagne, bitters and a sugar cube that was perfectly summed up by an exchange between Adam (Brendan Fraser) and Eve (Alicia Silverstone) in the only memorable part of the movie Blast From the Past:
Eve: Here ya go, one champagne cocktail.
Adam: Oh, thank you.
Eve: I thought only hookers drank those things?
Adam: Well, I know mom sure likes ‘em.
The Champagne Cocktail—a drink for hookers and old ladies.
What a distinction.
And yet, champagne (or sparkling wine as it’s referred to outside of the Champagne region of France) is the official drink of New Year’s Eve. With good reason, too—it’s meant for celebrating. So something had to give. My disdain for champagne-based cocktails was turning me into the Ebenezer Scrooge of New Year’s Eve.
Luckily, that’s around the time I discovered the Old Cuban, a drink created at the famed Pegu Club in New York City by owner-bartender Audrey Saunders. Conceived of as an upscale variation on the Mojito, the Old Cuban (a mix of rum, bitters, simple syrup and lime juice topped with champagne) is a versatile drink—i.e., the rum and champagne combination works as well in the summer as it does on December 31. Even more impressive: The dash of Angostura bitters brings a lot of Christmas spice to the party, allowing the Old Cuban to not only ably straddle two seasons but also two major holidays. (The Old Cuban—perfect for any occasion! Now, that’s a distinction.)
There isn’t, in fact, much the Old Cuban can’t do. That’s why it’s the drink I’ll be reaching for as the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday evening.
Shake all ingredients—save for the champagne—with ice in a cocktail shaker. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with two ounces of champagne. Garnish with a small mint sprig.
Adapted from a recipe by Audrey Saunders.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.