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Season for sparkle

Photos by Matt Haas

December 2015

Bartender Joe Meleski of
Le Reve Patisserie & Café

It’s that sparkly, twinkly time of the year, and there’s no reason why your cocktail shouldn’t sparkle, too. Sparkle, as in sparkling wine and bubbly cocktails.

"Sparkling cocktails lead into New Year’s Eve, where everyone pops the bubbly," says Joe Elmergreen, mixologist at Brady Street’s La Masa Empanada Bar. "But actually, sparkling cocktails are cocktails that you can enjoy year-round."

A.J. Dixon, owner of Lazy Susan restaurant in Bay View, agrees. "There are some sparkling cocktails that I just have to keep on the menu all year," Dixon says.

Traditionally, there have been three main types of sparkling wine or champagne cocktails. There’s the champagne cocktail, which is made with a sugar cube soaked in Angostura bitters and maybe a splash of cognac. Then there’s the French 75, which combines champagne or sparkling wine with gin and lemon. There’s also the Kir Royale, which combines bubbly with Chambord.

But while some of today’s sparkling concoctions pay homage to their traditional roots, many bartenders mix things up, combining champagne with different liquors and elixirs for delicious results.

Pisco Punch, La Masa Empanada Bar

The Pisco Punch is one of the few made-to-order cocktails at La Masa (versus an on-tap cocktail). It’s made with Barsol pisco, blood orange puree, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, along with Portell California cava and Jamaican No. 2 bitters. "It’s light and crisp," Elmergreen says. "We tried making it a couple of different ways before we came upon the right combination. It’s a labor of love." 1300 E. Brady St., (414) 885-1866,

The Violet Femme, Wine Maniacs on the River and Wine Maniacs

Named after Milwaukee’s own Violet Femmes, this champagne cocktail uses Kenwood Yulupa cuvee brut and is topped with a half ounce of G. Miclo violet liqueur. Fragrant and sparkling, it’s a great way to ring in the new year, says Rik Acken, general manager for Wine Maniacs on the River. "We also make one we called the Rosie, but instead of violet liqueur, we use G. Miclo rose liqueur. naming it after Rosie O’Donnell." 106 W. Seeboth St., (414) 278-WINE (9463) and W359-N5002 Brown St., Oconomowoc, (262) 244-0385,

French Lavender 75, Lazy Susan

Made with L’Authentique Génépi liqueur and Uncle Val’s botanical gin, this twist on a traditional cocktail gets heady with floral aromas. Additions include a lavender simple syrup that’s made in house and a splash of Spanish cava. "It’s really aromatic and really good," says Dixon. "It’s something I would never take off our menu. I could drink this cocktail all day long." 2378 S. Howell Ave., (414) 988-7086,

The French 77, Le Reve Patisserie & Café

This cocktail is a play on the traditional French 75, but instead of gin, Le Reve uses a French elderberry cordial called St. Germain. The liqueur plays with lemon juice and prosecco before being topped with a lemon twist. "It’s a little bit sweeter, with citrus and floral notes," says Tim Minor, assistant general manager. "It’s actually quite amazing." Minor recommends pairing it with any of the appetizers on Le Reve’s menu. "It’s a great accompaniment to the lighter faire, but the carbonation also cuts through heavier dishes, too," he says. 7610 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 778-3333,

The Poinsettia, Union House

Cranberry juice is topped with champagne, and a slice of lime floats on top of this holiday cocktail. But the Union House also serves up a peach ’tini made with peach vodka, orange juice and topped with sparkling wine. "Everybody likes a little bit of fizz this time of year," says Curt Robinson, who owns the Union House with his wife, Patty. "You’ve gotta have bubbles." S42-W31320 WI Highway 83, Genesee Depot, (262)968-4281,


This story ran in the December 2015 issue of: