Just add fizz

Brent Sweatman

What would New Year's be without a bit of excitement in a glass? Bubbly Champagne and sparkling wines are the traditional toast of the eve, but they are hardly conventional in the hands of local mixologists.

These fizzy and fun cocktails burst forth with exotic fruits, flowers and liqueurs, and that can put extra sparkle into a celebration.

Brent Sweatman of Granville's Cafe in Charleston created a cocktail that epitomizes global influences. His Elderflower Pisco Punch includes St. Germain, a French liqueur made from handpicked elderflower blossoms, and Pisco, a grape brandy from Peru.

"I always try to bring something new to the table to educate people to what's out there, which is why I brought the Pisco in and the clove just felt right for the season," he says. "Finally, most drinks could use a few dashes of bitters. Bitters are thought of in the cocktail world as our salt and pepper, seasoning for a drink."

John Aquino of Coast Bar & Grill in downtown Charleston says the latest trend in cocktails

is the revival of the old classics, "and there are a few champagne cocktails in there, so I think that with the talent we have in this town, the future looks great for bubbles and classics, but bubbles are a bit more seasonal."

He also encourages people to try different brands of Champagnes outside of more advertised ones. His personal favorite is Gosset -- "best bet for the money," he says.

Gosset, pronounced "go-say," is not a bargain-bin kind of buy. Stephanie Bergren of The Wine Shop in Charleston says Gosset's Brut Excellence at $47.99 is great value for its high quality. Gosset's Grand Rose is $87.99 -- "a big special-occasion bottle," she says.

Find in-depth inspiration for Champagne and sparkling wine cocktails in two books devoted entirely to the subject: "The Bubbly Bar" by Maria C. Hunt (Clarkson Potter, 2009) and "Champagne Cocktails" by Kim Haasarud (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at 937-4886.

"There are so many components that make this drink special," says Brent Sweatman of Granville's Cafe in Charleston. "The first being Pisco, which is a grape brandy that is the national drink of Peru. It has a very unique sweet and woody flavor that is all its own.

"Next would have to be the St. Germain. In the last three to four years, this French liqueur has exploded on the scene. It's an elderflower spirit that is crafted from hand-picked elderflowers and is known for its aromatics and sweetness. The sweetness of these two components pairs very well with the dryness of the Champagne."

Lastly, he says, "You get lovely seasonal spice notes from the clove, and the Angostura Bitters round the drink out. To take things further, try pressing your own pineapple juice for a more complex and fresh taste."

Ingredients

3 whole cloves, divided use

1 1/2 ounces Pisco

1 ounce St. Germain

3/4 ounce pineapple juice

1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Brut Champagne

Pineapple wedge for garnish (optional)

Directions

Muddle 1 whole clove in the bottom of a cocktail shaker until roughly ground. Place the rest of the ingredients except Champagne and pineapple wedge in the cocktail shaker, fill 3/4 full of ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a Collins or tall water glass full of ice and top with Champagne.

For a garnish, take the remaining 2 cloves and grind them down into a rough powder; sprinkle on the top along with a pineapple wedge for the side of the glass. Stir and enjoy.

"Since the holiday season starts at Thanksgiving, I took the strained liquids of my homemade cranberry relish and poured them into ice cube trays so I could use them for personalized cocktails throughout the season, and this is just one of them," says mixologist John Aquino of Coast restaurant. "This cocktail would go great with a nice selection of cheeses and fruit."

Ingredients

1 bag fresh or frozen cranberries

3 cups simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1/2 box of white raisins

Gran Marnier liqueur

Champagne

Directions

Cook cranberries, simple syrup, orange zest and juice and white raisins in a large pot until 3/4 of the cranberries pop; strain and reserve liquid, store solids as a relish to be used later with your cheese plate. Cool liquid in refrigerator. When ready to use, fill 1/3 champagne glass with mix, 3/4 ounce Gran Marnier and top with Champagne. Sweeten to taste with a splash of chilled simple syrup (if necessary).

Tradd Gibbs of Cork Neighborhood Bistro in North Charleston says this cocktail is "decadent, divine and oh so classy." As for the wild hibiscus flowers in syrup, he says they can be found at some specialty grocery stores including Whole Foods, or purchased online from www.wildhibiscus.com/shop/index.html. They also may be ordered directly from Cork.

Ingredients

Fresh mint

Wild hibiscus flowers in syrup

Prosecco sparkling wine

2/3 ounce wild hibiscus syrup

1 1/2 ounces pomegranate liqueur

Directions

Muddle mint in the champagne flute and discard.

Place wild hibiscus flower in bottom of glass and stand upright.

Top with Prosecco. Pour in the hibiscus syrup, which will graduate from crimson at the bottom to light pink at the top. (Tip: Pour syrup in first for a layered effect.) Float the pomegranate liqueur on the top.

The flower will sit in the bottom of the champagne flute and slowly open up over 3-4 minutes.