Matthew Bettinger stops just short of calling New Year's Eve a fabricated Hallmark holiday.
But the longtime Raleigh bartender and general manager at Raleigh jazz club and watering hole C. Grace insists that the year-end celebration is less about one central theme or idea than an overall festive atmosphere that's easy to brand and buy.
"It's a Champagne-and-marketing holiday," Bettinger says. "And your focal point isn't any one thing. It's not about what's in your glass, but what you're drinking is one of the most important side roles."
And so Bettinger prefers to keep it simple for New Year's Eve with a Champagne cocktail that looks good and offers a little bit of big-meal digestive help but requires little preparation. That theme—and many of the ingredients—carry over into Bettinger's potent post-party choice for New Year's Day, an undiluted variation on the French Twist.
"The effervescence gives it a celebratory feel, and the additional bitters add complexity," Bettinger says of the year-end cocktail. "Everything bubbly with a little garnish on top? That makes for a pretty good time."
On New Year's Eve, Champagne rules the night. Few things can beat the combination of evening attire, close friends and a few bottles of bubbly. You don't want something so expensive that you'd feel bad about opening many bottles—or, possibly, even imbibing from them directly.
But I also find that a classic Champagne cocktail satisfies the sparkling requirement and offers both the complexity of a cocktail and the benefit of aided digestion.
1 barspoon (teaspoon) of simple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 glass of Champagne (A dry prosecco or cava will also work, but I recommend splurging for Champagne on New Year's Eve. The bone-dry bubbles and strong minerality are a real treat.)
Combine simple syrup and bitters in a Champagne flute.
Top with Champagne.
Garnish with a long lemon twist, expressed over the cocktail.
For the morning after, a bit of hair of the dog is the best bet. Who works on January 1, anyway? For these purposes, I enjoy a tweak on a Savoy French 75.
We usually see this cocktail shaken with ice and served in a flute. But for the morning after, I like to skip the ice in the shaker, as there's no need for extra dilution in the quest for the cure for what ails me. The cracked ice ensures a cold beverage—soothing to the palate and, hopefully, refreshing enough to get the day started.
1.5 ounces of dry gin
.75 ounces of lemon juice
.75 ounces of simple syrup
Combine ingredients in shaker.
Shake without ice.
Pour into Collins glass, filled halfway with cracked ice.
Top with Champagne.
Garnish with an expressed lemon twist.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Drink it simple"