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Shoestring was on the hunt for the haute cocktails favored by celebrities and socialites these days, so we quizzed two elixir experts — one in NYC, one in SoCal — and came away with these tips, tricks, and trendy recipes to test-drive at home (with ten or so of your nearest and dearest, of course), for about $5 each.
EAST COAST: The Cutting Edge New Yorker
Somer Perez knows cocktails. As the protégé of Audrey Saunders (of Pegu Club fame) and a mixology trendsetter in her own right, Perez not only has her finger on the pulse of the Gotham bar scene, but the company she created — Couture Cocktail Concepts — is also behind many of the hot, new, A-list-approved beverages we aspire to someday enjoy again, getting bottle service in the corner of some chic "see and be seen" nightspot.
Pop Culture Martini
What else would you expect from a Village gal than a high concept with a cheeky and childlike twist? This recipe mixes Perez's own love of "old skool candy" with "simple and cool ingredients anyone can appreciate." Shoestring's staffers sampled this one in our test kitchen, and we agree: it rocks. (Just make sure you wait until right before garnishing to open the Pop Rocks, or they melt into a clump.)
1 1/2 ounces Zyr vodka (about $1.05)
1/2 ounce St. Germain liquer (about $0.64)
1/4 ounce lemon juice (about $0.07)
1/4 ounce Campari (about $0.89)
1 ounce grapefruit juice (about $0.04)
1/2 ounce simple syrup (about $0.05)
Club soda (about $0.25)
Pop Rocks candy (about $0.15)
In a mixing glass, combine all ingredients (other than the Pop Rocks and the club soda) and shake. Using additional simple syrup as "glue," rim a highball glass with the pop rocks. Strain the cocktail into the highball glass filled with ice and top with the club soda.
TOTAL COST PER COCKTAIL = $3.14
When entertaining at home, whether for just her fiance or for a few close friends, Perez is a big fan of making batches of drinks by the pitcher. "It's cost-effective and easy," she lauds. "I like to pitcher margaritas, then add an inexpensive but tasty puree to kick it up a notch. Perfect Puree makes a great, inexpensive Prickly Pear puree that definitely adds some cache to a regular old margarita."
Perez also notes that the mixology trend of the moment is to add a dash of something — bitters, liquers, syrups, or purees — to your basic Champagne or vodka beverage. "Whole Foods carries several different brands of Blood Orange Bitters, always under $10, and you only need a couple drops per drink." Her favorite additives are Fee Brothers bitters, "which have really unique flavors like rhubarb, lemon, grapefruit and mint — love that stuff" and Velvet Falernum, repopularized by Dale DeGroff (aka King Cocktail), with whom she worked back in the day at Beacon.
WEST COAST: The Effervescent, Elegant SoCal Girl
Maria Hunt takes her job as a food & wine editor so seriously that she's spent as much time in the culinary classroom as many of the acclaimed chefs she interviews for her award-winning stories. An unapologetic "Bubbly Girl" and blogger by the same byline, Hunt is also the author of the upcoming book, The Bubbly Bar, a celebration of Champagne and sparkling wines for every occassion — and every budget.
Now, she's handing us that luxe life — popping corks just because we're thirsty — on a lot less.
Killing Me Softly
Though Lauryn Hill and the Fugees belong to the borroughs and Dirty Jerz, Hunt borrows the title from one of their most popular songs for this update on the Ernest Hemingway classic, "Death in the Afternoon." Now that absinthe is again available in the States, why not take a dance with the Green Fairy — especially in the comfort of your own home?
1 sugar cube (about $0.02)
1 teaspoon Vieux Carre absinthe (about $0.43)
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liquer (about $0.64)
4 ounces Champagne or sparkling wine (about $4)
1 thin slice of lemon (about $0.05)
Drop the sugar cube in the bottom of a martini glass. Chill the absinthe and elderflower liquer in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain into the martini glass. Top with the Champagne. Lightly squeeze the slice of lemon and float it on top of the cocktail.
TOTAL COST PER COCKTAIL = $5.14
Nothing gives a cocktail a dose of red carpet glamour quite like Champagne, though Hunt admits that being a Bubbly Girl can become an expensive, if elegant, habit — until you educate yourself about your options. The good news is, those options are becoming more affordable. As she writes in the forward to her new book, "With better quality bubbly now widely available and at prices that anyone can afford, putting a little sparkle into your drinks is easier than ever."
Hunt also told shared with Shoestring some of her "Secret Sips," or bottles of Champagne and sparkling wine for $20 or less, listed in a buying guide at the back of The Bubbly Bar.
"Look to areas outside of Champagne, or look at Champagnes that are not as well known, from smaller producers like Billecart–Salmont," Hunt advises. "The smaller companies don't spend as much on marketing so more is spent on the actual wine. Dom Pierre, which is also a French sparkling wine, is made by a Count and is absolutely delicious. Cava, the "Champagne of Spain", is also wonderful, like Vindrel and Albet Innoia. A great bottle of Cava can be had for $20 max."
OK, folks, you heard it from the experts: the battle of the cheap, chic cocktail coasts is on!
Copyright 2009 Shoestring, LLC. Photo: iStock