History of the New Year’s Eve Champagne Toast

Champagne is an enduring, delightful classic. It is luxury embodied. It is celebration in a bottle. Champagne was not originally associated with holiday seasons or celebration, but instead marked privilege and excess.

It was the drink of gentlemen and royalty. However, the Houses of Champagne desired an appeal to the lady folk, and launched a marketing campaign to attract women to the bubbly elixir. The brilliant marketing focused upon beautiful labeling and scenes of celebration and events important to women, including weddings, romantic dates, and christenings. Thus, the enchantment of Champagne was ever attached to occasions of import, especially ushering in the New Year.

Since the time of ancient Babylon, 4000 years ago, the grand celebration of the new year has been an integral part of society. Whether a wild rumpus for the grain god of barley, or a nod to Janus (January), the Roman god with a duo of faces, one facing back and the other forward, or the New York City ball drop, there has been worldwide recognition of renewal and reflection. Whether with wish grapes, lentils, black eyed peas, or a flute of Champagne, raise a toast to health, happiness, and prosperity in the New Year!

As old as Champagne itself, is the tradition of using the wine as a base for a compound beverage. Dave Wondrich names it as the first ‘improved cocktail’, the first to stray from a base of a hard spirit. By the 1800s, the classic ‘Champagne Cocktail’ was all the rage at society gatherings and dinner parties, especially. Punches and cups, lemon twist, brandy, and orange liqueur were blended to popular demand, and championed by the bar-tend par excellence, Mister Jerry Thomas.

The variations are endless, and encourage wild innovation. Bubbles make everything better. Perk up your bubbles with a spike of aromatic liqueur, perhaps Koval Honey Chrysanthemum or green Chartreuse. And, be sure to break out the bubbly early (and often) during your holiday celebration. Drink your fireworks.

–written by City Winery Chicago Beverage Director, Rachel Driver-Speckan