Which Buck’s Fizz should you have for Christmas breakfast? I tried 10 to find out

Clay: 'Supermarkets have plenty of ready-bottled versions so you don’t need to move away from the scrambled eggs'
Clay: 'Supermarkets have plenty of ready-bottled versions so you don’t need to move away from the scrambled eggs'

Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, Buck’s fizz. It’s the classic Christmas breakfast. And the supermarkets have plenty of ready-bottled versions so you don’t need to move away from the egg pan.

But supposing you do want to make your own, what exactly is Buck’s fizz – and how is it different from a mimosa, which flourishes at brunch tables Stateside?

Both involve orange juice and sparkling wine, and the International Bartenders Association (IBA), founded in Torquay but now based in Singapore, regards them as the same drink. Mind you, The IBA also gives the recipe as prosecco mixed with orange juice. I’m going to stick my head above the barstool here and say this is a mistake.

Prosecco (fermented in vats) has a mild flavour which is lost in the lively citric aromas and acidity of orange juice. What’s needed is the richer flavour of a bottle-fermented or “methode traditionelle” fizz. Champagne is the gold standard, but other bottle-fermented bubblies like crémant, cava or English sparkling do very well instead. Save the prosecco for bellinis, where the bland, sweet flavour is a much better match for delicate peach purée than champagne.

Kate Hawkings, wine and spirits writer and author of Aperitif: A Spirited Guide to the Drinks, History and Culture of the Aperitif plumps for cava in Buck’s fizz. “Champagne would be lovely but I don’t know how many people would notice if you use a good cava,” she says. “It’s about getting the balance of juice, winey-ness and bubble right. It should be thirst quenching and have the jollity of bubbles.”

For her, the right mix is one part juice to two parts fizz. “Anything less than that and the wine can be a bit swamped, but you can adapt the proportions to fit the drinker.”

Recipes for Buck’s fizz and mimosas first crop up in the 1920s, and all the early versions use champagne – or do they? Rules about the term “champagne” were looser in the early years of the last century, so a vintage cocktail book may just mean sparkling wine. The Mixicologist, published in 1895, refers to the “champagnes and clarets made in the neighbourhood of Sandusky and Cleveland”. It was champagne, Jim, but not as we know it.

The legend is that Buck’s fizz was invented for London’s Buck’s Club in 1921, but another source might be bartender “Robert” Buckby. The Buckstone Book of Cocktails by Buckby and George Stone, dating from about 1925, lists a Buck’s Fizz as half and half orange juice and champagne, plus a dash of grenadine, served in a tumbler.

A Buck’s fizz has just champagne and orange juice, while a mimosa includes an additional splash of triple sec
A Buck’s fizz has just champagne and orange juice, while a mimosa includes an additional splash of triple sec - David Cabrera Navarro / Alamy Stock Photo

The first mention of the mimosa in print, according to The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, is in French, in L’Art du Shaker, also published in 1925 by Dominique Migliorero of the New-York Bar in Nice, and involves half and half orange juice and champagne served in a balloon glass over ice. Pretty much the same, you might think, but to mixologists the addition of ice or grenadine is a serious matter, as well as the choice of glass.

As time rolled on, things got boozier. The 1936 classic The Artistry of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meier of the Ritz in Paris, describes a Buck’s fizz as the juice of half an orange, half a teaspoon of sugar and half a glass of gin (30ml, just over a standard shot) strained into a wide fizz glass and topped up with champagne.

These days the pendulum has swung the other way. In her book Spirited Adrienne Stillman says that a Buck’s fizz has just champagne and orange juice, while a mimosa includes an additional splash of triple sec (orange liqueur) and “it is much better with it”.

Other recipes say Buck’s fizz has two parts champagne to one part orange juice while a mimosa has equal parts of each – or sometimes two parts orange juice to one part champagne.

As for the supermarket bottles, no actual sparkling wine has gone near them. Instead, the cocktail is mixed with still wine that is then carbonated. It’s a common technique used by sparkling ready-made cocktail producers; Moth does a version of a French 75, classically made with champagne, using carbonated wine instead. It’s really rather good.

Aldi’s ingredients, meanwhile, include something called “made-wine”, which turns out to be a term covering everything that isn’t spirits, beer, cider or wine made from grapes, but is “made from the alcoholic fermentation of any substance or the mixing of wine with another substance”. That covers lots of “country wines” like elderberry, but no one is suggesting that the supermarkets are foraging in the hedgerows.

All credit to Aldi, though, for actually listing the ingredients. Alcoholic drinks don’t have to include a list, and plenty of the supermarkets don’t bother. Moth lists the French 75’s “key ingredients” as “pink gin, fizz, lemon”, which sounds to me like it is hoping we’d mistake “fizz” for sparkling wine.

Meanwhile, the Drugs, Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group is lobbying for it to become a requirement that booze has to list ingredients. Put me down as a supporter.

Hawkings kindly helped me to taste 10 bottles. They weren’t a patch on making your own, we agreed, but as a low-cost, low-booze bottle (most come in around 4% alcohol and some are under £3) they are an appealing way to pop a cork and be festive. And, yes, I’d rather drink some of these than prosecco at three times the price. Just don’t take your eye off the scrambled eggs.

The taste test

Fizzling out

Buck's fizz
Buck's fizz

Aldi Belletti Blood Orange and Pomegranate Buck’s Fizz

4%, £2.89 for 75cl

There’s a promising grapefruit smell, but the flavour is of fruit salad sweets. “It’s a children’s drink,” says Kate Hawkings, but with alcohol, so all wrong.

0 stars

Morrisons Clementine Buck’s Fizz

4%, £3 for 75cl

Looks like a Bacardi Breezer and smells like orange squash. The taste is very sweet, cloying, more like Fanta or Orangina than a celebration drink.

M&S Buck’s Fizz

4%, £3.70 for 75cl at Ocado

Less cloyingly sweet than others, but also less sharp. There’s a soapy note, like it’s made with cheap orange juice. At least they list the ingredients.

Morrisons Buck’s Fizz

4%, £2.50 for 75cl (on sale down from £3)

You may as well have juice by itself – it’s very sweet and not very wine-y. Overall it’s unexceptional. You could argue this is more delicate than others, but I’d say it’s just bland, with a hint of soap.

Aldi Belletti Buck’s Fizz

4%, £1.99/75cl (on offer down from £2.39)

This didn’t fizz a lot and it looks fake. It tastes like squash mixed with wine, but it’s less cloying than others. Bit of a nonentity but it’s better than being horrid – bring it out with your trifle.

Lovely bubbly

Buck's Fizz
Buck's Fizz

Nozeco Alcohol Free Buck’s Fizz

0.5%, £4 for 75cl at Ocado

Not boozy, of course, but it is grown-up tasting, with a funky, zesty, sherbety flavour that works in a champagne flute. If other Buck’s fizz is “not worth the alcohol units”, try this.

Sainsbury’s Buck’s Fizz

4%, £3 for 75cl

Bright yellow and cloudy with a nice zesty, floral fragrance, and that cooked, long-life orange juice flavour. We’d like the taste of the wine to come through more.

Asda Buck’s Fizz Sparkling Cocktail

4%, £2.25 for 75cl (on sale down from £2.50)

A nice-coloured beverage with some cloudiness – that’s a good thing by the way. It’s juicy and sweet and you can taste the wine, but it’s still got that artificial taste that’s bitter and medicinal.

Tesco Vineyard’s Buck’s Fizz

3.4%, £2.50 for 75cl

For a Buck’s Fizz, I want acidity and brightness, which this isn’t delivering. Instead, it’s a bit flat, very pale and quite bland. At least it isn’t soapy.

Waitrose Buck’s Fizz

4%, £3.49 for 75cl 

Smells right, and less sweet than many. The flavour is of long-life orange juice, but it’s not otherwise fake. Served really cold, this will do the trick with breakfast.

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