Alcohol is expensive. Unless you distill your own on the sly, you’ll be at the mercy of high taxes and big brands. One option is to buy the cheapest booze going, and, with a little magic, turn it into something special. That’s a big part of what cocktails are about.

But you can push it much harder if you think outside the glass. The key is the environment that you drink in. Even if you stick to park bench beverages, if you drink in a space that looks magical, with proper service, the experience will be awesome.–Sam Bompas and Harry Parr

LC Budget-Appropriate Cocktail Note

We haven’t done the math to ascertain that, ounce for ounce, this Champagne cocktail is indeed a far more budget-appropriate alternative to bubbly, but it certainly seems like that’d be the case. Not that we have anything against bubbly. Gosh, no. But we can absolutely vouch for the assertion that the environment makes the cocktail—or, in this case, the Champagne cocktail. Course we’d sip this in an unfinished basement and still feel pretty posh.

Poor man's Champagne cocktail in a coupe glass with a twist of lemon

Poor Man’s Champagne Cocktail

4.34 / 3 votes
Made with no Champagne at all, this poor man's cocktail still brings elegance to your party without the expense.
David Leite
Servings1 servings
Calories230 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes


  • 1 sugar cube
  • Angostura bitters, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados or other apple brandy, (or substitute 1/2 tablespoon each thawed frozen apple juice concentrate and Cognac)
  • 1 bottle hard cider, chilled
  • Sliced apple or lemon twist, for garnish


  • Place the sugar cube in a flute and dribble enough bitters over the sugar to soak it. Add the Calvados and top off the flute with the cider. (You may have some cider left over. Tant pis.) Garnish each Champagne cocktail, er, poor man’s Champagne cocktail with a slice of apple or a lemon twist.
  • Sip, smack your lips, and sigh.
Cocktails with Bompas & Parr

Adapted From

Cocktails with Bompas & Parr

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Serving: 1 servingCalories: 230 kcalCarbohydrates: 7 gFat: 0.01 gSodium: 4 mgPotassium: 0.4 mgSugar: 6 gCalcium: 0.04 mgIron: 0.01 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2012 Sam Bompas and Harry Parr. Photo © 2012 Beth Evans. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

A cocktail made with Calvados and apple cider? What could be wrong with that? Answer: Absolutely nothing! This was our Thanksgiving day “cooking cocktail” and it was so good we had it again before the leftover feast! This drink just puts you into an autumnal mood and the smell of the Calvados and cider is divine. I have to admit that the second time I made this, I used hard cider. Made it even better!

This is a delightfully refreshing cocktail and very simple to make. I’d recommend choosing the best ingredients you can afford, especially when it comes to the hard cider. We used Cidrerie de Savoie medium dry cider, French apple brandy, and a fresh bottle of Angostura, as the one we had on hand was a little old and not so aromatic. Also, the only sugar cubes we had on hand were brown, but I don’t think this made much difference in the final taste, although it did add a little something to the color. It looked pretty. We’ll definitely be seeing this drink again on our holiday table.

This is a nice sparkling cocktail that’s easy to throw together–no blender required. I used 1/4 teaspoon bitters, which soaked the sugar cube well, and 1/2 cup cider, but I think 1 full cup would help the ingredients meld better. I’d recommend using a dry cider like Strongbow or Samuel Adams Angry Orchard so that the resulting flavor is light and not too sweet. For best results, make sure your cider is ice-cold, and if your sugar cube is on the older side, muddle it with the Angostura and calvados before you add the cider. Otherwise, the effervescence may be compromised, and the sugar won’t dissolve completely, making your drink too bitter.

This is a great, simple cocktail to prepare for guests during the holiday season. It’s more affordable than the traditional Champagne cocktail recipe, and it’s a lovely way to start the evening, as the flavors are bright and not too strong. I used white sugar cubes, Laird’s applejack brandy, Samuel Smith’s hard cider, and a lemon twist. I’d definitely make this again and even play around with the ingredients, maybe swapping out Angostura for Peychaud’s or my homemade Sriracha or rhubarb bitters.

I’m stunned by this champagne cocktail recipe because it actually tastes like Champagne! I thought the drink was going to be too medicinal (I’ve never used that much Angostura in one sitting before), but the combination of herbal bitters, slightly sweet cider, and fortified apple brandy (I used Laird’s) made a perfectly balanced cocktail. I’m not sure if this is an attempt to make mock Champagne, or if it’s just a cocktail recipe. Either way, it’s grand.

This is a refreshing cocktail that you can safely drink a few of without starting to list off to one side. There’s something decadent about a bitters-soaked sugar cube that is very pleasing to construct and, of course, to consume. Extensive research has led me to believe that between 10 and 15 drops bitters is the right amount. (My own preference is for 12, but let’s not be picky.) I used pressed apple juice, which I think is the closest equivalent to apple cider there is in the United Kingdom. Don’t be tempted to use hard cider unless you’re on a mission.

There’s an apple orchard about a half mile from our house, and they make the best apple cider every fall. It has the deepest, fullest flavor of any cider that I’ve ever tasted. I’m not a fan of some of the hard ciders on the market, so this seemed like a good way to add a little ‘kick’ to the local cider. I like the fact that there’s only 1 tablespoon Calvados in the drink. It enhances the cocktail, but it doesn’t totally overpower the very flavorful apple cider. I would make sure not to overdo the bitters. To me, a little can go a long way. With the holiday season here, I’m thinking of trying this with warm cider, too. Sounds perfect on a cold, snowy night, sitting in front of the fireplace!

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 4 stars
    This cocktail is autumn in a glass. It is simple to make but yet so full of autumn flavour. The only change I made was adding 2 tablespoons of Calvados in my second round (yes, there was more than one round) as it kind of got lost in my first go and I found the apple brandy to shine through a bit more with 2 tablespoons. However, that is just my personal preference.