Every year on New Year's Eve, Tracy and I celebrate the coming year with champagne cocktails and a movie marathon. The wisdom of this decision has become clear over the years when we consider what it means to spend the last night of the year on the town--the trouble of finding a cab, the obnoxious crowds, the challenge of even obtaining a drink, and the almost predictably foul weather. And when weighed against Seelbachs and French 75s, or Airmails and Old Cubans, or even simple Champagne Cocktails, opting to stay in seems almost genius. The only difficult part is choosing what to have. This year while constructing the cocktail menu, the memory of a particularly tasty champagne cocktail popped into my head, the Recoleta. We first encountered this drink over a year ago at Sambar and notoriously, it contained Fernet Branca. The pairing of champagne and Fernet piqued my curiosity and I soon became obsessed with finding it or a similar drink. But to my disappointment, my Internet searches were primarily fruitless. Even uncovering champagne cocktails with any amari turned up few options.
Though I could not find the recipe for the Recoleta, my time was not spent in vain. I did unearth one cocktail that included both champagne and Fernet--the I.B.F. Pick-Me-Up. Created in the 1920s by Bob Card, a bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, this cocktail was first published in Barflies and Cocktails (1927). However, I discovered it tangled up in all of the hangover cures that so dominate the subject of cocktail blogs during the last weeks of the year. Like in the Fernet Cocktail (Robert Vermeire's Cocktails How to Mix Them (1922)) that later became known as the Toronto, a small amount of Fernet is added to the combination of a "more neutral" base spirit and a bit of sweetener, here provided by the orange liqueur. It is the addition of champagne that provides the interest, however--the acidity of the sparkler could have easily undone the balance.
I.B.F. Pick-Me-Up (adapted Bob Card's original creation)
2 ounces brandy
3 dashes Fernet Branca
3 dashes Cointreau
Combine all ingredients except for champagne in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with chilled champagne.
The I.B.F. stands for the International Bar Flies, a group of, well, we'll just say bar flies that was created by Harry MacElhone and O.O. McIntyre in 1924. Its mission was (and supposedly is) devoted to "the uplift and downfall of serious drinkers." This eye-opener has everything you could possibly wish for in a hangover "cure"--hair of the dog (cognac), effervescence, potable bitters for the stomach, and a bit of sweetness. It would have been easy to just thrown this together and call it a night, but the lack of Fernet sparkler spurred me on to create my own. The I.B.F. was simply a perfect place to start.
Fernet Branca is a tremendously complex amari that is incredibly bitter. Because of its strong herbal flavor, it is incredibly polarizing and has inspired many strong opinions. When first introduced to it, many people greet its taste with a grimace and some sort of guttural, instinctive sound, like GAH! Usually they only persevere because Fernet is a powerful digestive aid. It is an acquired taste for sure.
Pairing other flavors with Fernet can also create problems, however. One of the most popular ways to drink it is, actually, neat, with a ginger beer back, though many of its adherents will opt for a lager. Ginger and Fernet go wonderfully well together. Because of this, I thought that a nice spicy ginger flavor would add an interesting element to the I.B.F.
Fernet Champagne Cocktail
1 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton
1/2 ounce orange curacao
4 ounces sparkling wine
Chill mixing glass thoroughly. Add all ingredients except sparkling wine and stir to mix. Pour liquid into a chilled champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with and orange twist.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Paul Masson VSOP brandy and Chateau Ste. Michelle sparkling wine.
Of all the drinks I made this New Year's, this drink was by far the favorite. Complex and refreshing, with layers of flavor, each sip was bold and interesting. Though the recipe may seem a bit large, we have large champagne flutes. Fortunately, it can easily be halved. Though I used the Domaine de Canton, the ginger flavor was not as strong as I had originally intended. Using a liqueur with a more intense ginger flavor, like the King's Ginger, might rectify this though the balance may also suffer. However, this product is not yet available in Washington yet (grumble grumble). Another option for a more gingery, less Fernet-y drink, might be to make the I.B.F. Pick-me-up substituting the ginger liqueur for the Cointreau. Regardless, it was though a wonderful way to ring in the new year.