This gin, champagne, and lemon juice combo packs firepower
There aren’t many cocktails named after an artillery piece. In fact, the French 75 is the only one I know of.
More on its history later. But all you really need to know is this: The French 75 Cocktail is a delightfully perky combo of gin and fresh lemon juice, topped off with bubbly. Its cool flavor is fragrant, fresh, and fizzy—making it a perfect choice before dinner. I particularly like to drink the French 75 around the winter holidays, when I’m looking for something festive.
So for your next holiday dinner party, pop a bottle of bubbly and mix a round of these high-caliber beauties. And start the evening with a bang.
Recipe: The French 75 Cocktail
You have a choice of glassware when serving this drink. You can use an ice-filled Collins (tall) glass. Or skip the ice and use a champagne flute. The first is traditional, but the latter is much more popular these days.
You can use real French champagne for this drink, but why? A good quality sparkling wine (preferably a brut or Spanish cava) works fine, and is much less expensive. See Notes for a discussion on choices.
This cocktail dates from World War I (1915, to be precise). But the recipe first appeared in print in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930 (the Savoy was—and still is—a luxury hotel in London). You can vary the amount of gin or sparkling wine in this drink, but one ratio should remain constant: use 1 part lemon juice for every 2 parts of gin. More in the Notes.
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to make.
- 1½ ounces gin (use dry “London” gin; see Notes)
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Simple Syrup (may substitute powdered sugar or table sugar)
- 4 to 5 ounces sparkling wine
- lemon twist or wedge for garnish (optional)
- Add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled (20 seconds or so).
- Strain into a Collins (tall) glass filled with cracked ice (may substitute ice cubes). Fill the glass with sparkling wine, add garnish, and serve.
- OR if you prefer to serve this drink in a champagne flute, strain the contents of the cocktail shaker into the flute. Add the sparkling wine, garnish, and serve.
- The amount of gin used in this drink can vary depending on the recipe you use. I’ve seen versions that specify as little as ½ ounce of gin—or as much as 2 ounces. You definitely want to taste the gin in this drink, IMO, so 1½ to 2 ounces is what I recommend. But with this amount of gin, the drink is pretty hefty. It’s a smooth sipper, too—so just remember that it contains quite a bit of alcohol.
- Do make sure to use half as much lemon juice as gin. The proper ratio of gin to lemon juice should remain 2 to 1.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
- In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Should you happen to see any of these in your local shop (unlikely, because they’re not common), don’t buy them to make this drink; their flavor is all wrong.
- Some people claim that cognac—instead of gin—is the proper spirit to use in this drink (because gin isn’t normally associated with France). But if you replace the gin with cognac, most people would call the drink a King’s Peg (though many recipes for the King’s Peg omit the lemon juice and simple syrup).
- Under European law, only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France (and is bottled under certain conditions) can be sold as “champagne.”
- Champagne gets its characteristic bubbles because it undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle—a technique called “méthode champenoise.” By European law, that wording can now be used only to describe sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region. Other sparkling wines made in the same way must use the nomenclature “méthode traditionnelle” or “fermented in the bottle,” or the equivalent.
- It’s difficult to find true champagne in the US for under $30 a bottle. But most of the decent sparkling wines made in the US (and all the cavas made in Spain) are fermented in the bottle. Many of these sparklers rival champagne in flavor.
- For this drink, Korbel brut is fine, and that’s usually priced in the lower teens. Domaine Ste.-Michelle is another decent (and modestly priced) domestic brand.
- Spanish cavas can be even less expensive, often selling in the $8 to $9 range. Cordorniu and Freixenet are two brands that can be found in most grocery stores.
- My favorite un-champagne in this price range is Saint-Hilaire (the full name is Saint-Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux), which is made in a Benedictine Abbey in southwestern France. This wine actually predates champagne and is in fact France’s oldest sparkling wine. Thomas Jefferson loved it, and served it to guests when he was president. It typically costs $13 or $14 in the US (though friends tell us it can be had for $10 at Costco).
- Lots of options here. My advice? Just drop by your local wine store and tell them you need “champagne” for cocktails, then ask what they recommend in the $10-or-so range. They’ll usually have several good suggestions.
An Explosive Drink
“Mmmm,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping appreciatively. “Great drink! And it was named after an artillery piece?”
“Yup,” I said. “Sounds weird, I know, but its inspiration was the Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897—a 75-millimeter field gun known as the French 75. Or if you’re a French speaker, the Soixante-Quinze.”
“Which translates into English literally as 60-15,” said Mrs K R. “That must have been some gun!”
“A big one,” I said. “At any rate, it inspired Harry MacElhone to create this drink. MacElhone was working at the New York Bar in Paris when inspiration hit. He later became part owner of the place, and renamed it Harry’s New York Bar.”
“Say, Hemingway used to drink there, didn’t he?” asked Mrs K R.
“Indeed,” I said. “Though I think Hemingway used to drink everywhere. The bar still exists, by the way. We should visit it next time we’re in Paris.”
“Ah, Paris,” sighed Mrs K R, taking another sip.
“It would be great to go back again,” I said.
“Well, Christmas is coming,” Mrs K R pointed out helpfully. “I’ll bet you haven’t gotten me a gift yet. And I do speak French, you know.”
This might be an expensive drink.
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