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Drinks

Bring the 'Pagne

A top NYC bartender shows us why bubbles make everything better
J Rosser Lomax's Negroni & Bubbles
Video & Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table 

If J Rosser Lomax had his way, we'd all be pouring Champagne into everything we drink: cereal milk, sports drinks, after-dinner espressos. OK, that might be an exaggeration, but the bar manager at Craftbar in New York City is firmly of the notion that any moment can be upgraded to a celebration by transforming (almost) any beverage into a royale—even the beloved Negroni (see the recipe).

"More is always more. That's math," Lomax laughs. His own calculations began some years back when he worked in a bar that featured a lot of sparkling wine and refused to serve from bottles where the liquid had dipped below the label by the end of the night. ("There wasn't enough vapor pressure to keep all of the CO2 suspended, and we were very interested in doing things correctly.") He couldn't face pouring this bounty down the drain, so he began tinkering with shift drinks, adding a touch of bubbly to cocktails he already enjoyed.

Not every one of Lomax's pairings was perfection (bitter flavors, tannins and aged spirits don't always commingle gracefully with Champagne, he found), but the formula worked especially well, time and time again: Bubbles + sour = reliable bliss.

"Once I unlocked the idea that any sour would be elevated by sparkling wine—it's the combination of the acidity and the residual sugar—it's just a different class of drinks," he says. And that, class, is the royale.

Though fetishists might nitpick at his use of the term (which is often limited to Champagne-based drinks), "it's a great way of saying, this is a special way of drinking this drink," Lomax says. "It implies that imperial sort of luxury, that sense that it's reserved for princes and kings. You want it to be a little fancy."

It also broadens the potential palette of bubbles to include cava, Prosecco, blanc de blancs, Lambrusco and more—for instance, the Crémant du Jura rosé he pours atop ancho pepper-infused tequila and crème de cacao in his Trump Card cocktail. Or the Pinot Noir-based sparkler that casts magic on his mescal-and-green Chartreuse Harry Lime and makes the aforementioned Negroni Obligatory an absolute must.

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For adventurous drinkers who'd like to try the royale treatment at home, Lomax offers a few guidelines:

Take the base spirit into consideration. Think about how it needs to be modified. Do you want to brighten up the drink, tamp down spicier notes, or is it just there for body?

Consider the perlage, or size of the bubbles. A sparkling wine like Champagne, cava or Crémant is made by a traditional method of putting yeast and sugar back into the bottle, resulting in finer bubbles—perfect in a cocktail like a Seelbach, where delicate orange and bitters flavors are meant to dance across the tongue. Prosecco is force-carbonated and delivers the flavors of a sour forward with a mighty pop.

And by all means, don't let anything go to waste. "Put Champagne in everything. If you ruin it, you drink it in penance, and you try again," Lomax says. "Craft bartending involves practice, and that means making mistakes. You learn from them, and you try again, and you fail better."

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