The final countdown: these are the finest cocktails for a New Year’s celebration

Featuring a French 75, a whisky sour, and a few of our favourite ready-to-drink cans and bottles

Cocktails on New Year’s Eve are a surefire way to get the party started. But, which cocktails to showcase, exactly? And, how does one serve them with a flourish, without spending half the evening measuring out precise proportions of bitters and shaping the perfect lemon peel?

The simplest way is to choose a correspondingly simple libation. It’s hard to go wrong with a kir royale, for example – just remember to put the crème de cassis in first (I like Harvey Nichols’s intense rendering, which harnesses British blackcurrants to velvety effect). And, I’d recommend using a French crémant or English sparkling wine rather than Champagne (and definitely not Prosecco, whose sweetness will only make the drink more cloying). A brut nature version works well, and, given English sparkling wine’s racy acidity, maybe this finally provides a use for Alex James’s Dorset-sourced Britpop Brut.

Champagne cocktails are suitably celebratory, and, generally, have the advantage of being zippy and light, in keeping not only with the prevailing mood but, also, your own equilibrium, over what is sure to be a long night. A kir is hardly the most ambitious example, of course. A French 75, on the other hand, offers a touch more complexity and sophistication – and, crucially, it allows for some discreet pre-batching, the secret of any smart host.

A well-crafted, balanced French 75 offers the perfect blend of sweet and sour, meaning guests are unlikely to down countless glasses, and hosts, therefore, shouldn’t have to deal with constant replenishing or riotous behaviour. Best of all, it offers the chance of prepping the base in advance: just mix the core ingredients (two-parts gin, one-part lemon juice, one-part simple syrup) beforehand, and then serve it like a kir on the night (give the mix a shake, pour a touch into a flute, top up with around twice as much fizz, and garnish with a lemon peel).

If you’re after something with a bit more oomph – but still on the lighter, zippier side – a whisky sour is not too tricky to make and features the classic spirit-citrus-sugar triumvirate. In this case, that translates to three-parts whisky, two-parts lemon juice and one-part sugar syrup (with the optional extra of a dash of egg white), all shaken together with ice and strained into a tumbler. I like it with an American – rather than Scotch – whisky (the always exemplary, sweet-wooded Woodford Reserve has a special holiday edition right now) and with a few drops of Angostura bitters on top.

It’s still a fairly labour-intensive operation, though, especially as the evening progresses and bodies and minds become less focused. Given such a scenario, the easiest option, of course, is to turn to ready-to-drink cocktails. Although this may sound like a cop-out, RTDs have improved in quality, rather markedly, in the last couple of years.

I’m quite partial to the Tails brand that Bacardi first developed for the bar industry, before rolling out to consumers last year. And, fortunately, among a range that runs from a pomegranate margarita to an espresso martini, the whisky sour is particularly good. It’s made with Dewar’s Scotch whisky, rather than bourbon, lending it a certain bittersweetness that, again, avoids overly rapid consumption. There’s no egg white, of course, but the prescribed serve, via shaking over ice before straining into a tumbler, ensures that classic froth – and, at least, a degree of theatre.

Finally, you know RTDs must be getting serious when Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) is trying his cultured hand at them. Chetiyawardana is said to be the world’s most-awarded bartender, and has been turning out his creative concoctions for east-London hipsters for the past decade. Now, he’s transferred his signature creations to a can, notably through that most timeless of whisky cocktails. His Beeswax Old Fashioned is exclusive to Selfridges and limited to a run of just 2,000 cans, so good luck getting hold of one. If you do, though, you’ll be treated to an at-home version of the Mr Lyan take on the slow-sipping classic via his trademark method of ageing the cocktail in beeswax. All you have to do is serve it in a tumbler over a big block of ice.

The cans’ designs – by Chetiyawardana’s sister, Natasha – are pretty sleek, and whether you serve the cocktails direct from the can or prep them in the kitchen with a garnish of orange peel, destroy the evidence, and then claim them as your own is entirely between you and your conscience…

Want more drinks content? This is why the 1086 by Nyetimber belongs on your festive table…

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