For something a little different this New Year's Eve, spruce up your sparkling with a splash of flavour or a burst of colour. Adding one carefully chosen ingredient or going all out with an elaborate champagne cocktail can help make your celebration extra special – or at least jazz up that $10 bottle you scored at the office Christmas party.
Thankfully we've emerged unscathed from the trend that saw us stuffing hibiscus flowers into champagne flutes, but there are plenty more tricks up our sleeves.
Australia is a major consumer of champagne, and according to Josh Baxter, group manager for the Speakeasy Group (whose stable includes cocktail bar Eau de Vie in Sydney and Melbourne), this year it's all about low fizz, low acidity and smaller price tags.
"This part of the world is tending towards sweeter styles of wine, and that includes champagne," Baxter says. "The champagne industry has consistently pulled out bright, citrusy non-vintages over the last few years. We're seeing smaller-beaded champagnes that are gentler on the palate, and smaller champagne houses that are lesser known and friendlier to the wallet."
Here's the scoop
Try adding a scoop of sorbet or gelato to your champers. Jason Williams, group bars manager for Sydney's Keystone Group (which includes the recently opened Champagne Room at The Winery) suggests a "champagne sgroppino" (Italian for "un-knotted"). Simply add a small scoop of gelato to a glass before pouring in some sparkling. Williams likes Gelato Messina's bergamot and tonka bean gelato, but fruit sorbet also works well: try lemon, peach or strawberry.
If you really want to push the buttons of a champagne purist, try Williams's "soyer au champagne" (French for "silk with champagne").
"This is basically a champagne spider," he says. Add to a tall glass or sundae glass one small scoop of good vanilla ice-cream, 10 millilitres of brandy or liqueur and 100 millilitres of champagne.
A spoonful of sugar
Sugar syrup is a slightly more subtle way to fancy things up. Just add a tablespoon or so to a glass before pouring in the champagne. It's easy to make your own syrup and there are loads of flavour possibilities: think lavender, ginger, honey, earl grey and rose.
Get fruity with foliage
We've all done the strawberry-in-champagne thing, but for a fresh take on an old fave, add some herbs. Muddle a berry and a small sprig or leaf in the bottom of a glass before pouring in champagne.
Some particularly pleasing combinations are blackberry and lavender, raspberry and lemon myrtle, and strawberry and basil.
Booze on booze
A splash of your favourite liqueur is an easy way to add punch to your fizz: try Aperol, elderflower liqueur, Campari or any fruit liqueur.
Create your own champagne cocktail bar
If you're hosting a party, this is a great idea to get your guests interacting and to take some pressure off yourself. Stock up on sparkling (or ask your guests to BYO a bottle) and set up a step-by-step bar that might include syrups, fruit purees, bitters, citrus peel, liqueurs and sugar cubes. Don't forget the swizzle sticks.
Champagne cocktail recipes
With its acidity and fizz, champagne is an ideal ingredient for cocktails. Daniel Perry, resident mixologist at Sofitel Melbourne's Atrium Bar On 35, offers the following advice.
"Have your ingredients organised before you start mixing. Remember less is more when it comes to the alcohol content of cocktails. Don't make them too strong; you are seeking a balance of flavours rather than an alcohol kick. Use flavours and twists that complement the drink. And don't be afraid to taste as you go."
Atrium Bar on 35's classic champagne cocktail
15ml Hennessy VS
15ml Grand Marnier
3 drops of Angostura Bitters
1 cube of sugar
Taittinger Champagne (or champagne of your choice)
Place the cube of sugar into a champagne flute and cover with a few drops of Angostura Bitters. Add 15ml of Hennessy VS and 15ml of Grand Marnier. Slowly top up the flute with champagne, tilting the flute ever so slightly.
The Champagne Room's "kir royal tower"
Get a bit kitsch with a "kir royal tower": it's dramatic, a touch outlandish and not nearly as hard to do as it looks.
You'll need 10 champagne saucers or coupettes. Add 10ml of creme de cassis to each glass. Stack glasses into a pyramid. Carefully half-fill each glass with champagne then pour more champagne from the top, allowing it to cascade down the glasses like a boozy waterfall.
Eau de Vie's "the por avion"
45ml Campo de Encanto Pisco
20ml citrus cordial
20ml fresh lime juice
7.5ml spiced agave
90ml Mumm (or champagne of your choice)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake it hard. Add the champagne after shaking, then pour into a crystal coupe or other cocktail glass.