With the revival of pre-Prohibition era cocktails, whiskey seems to be the key player – Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, and Sazeracs abound (all with rye, of course). This one, on the other hand, features a lovely (if not unlikely) combination of ingredients, and none of them are whiskey. Named after the artillery used widely by France during World War I, the French 75 cocktail has quite a tall order to live up to its namesake. Comprised of just four ingredients – gin, lemon, simple, and champagne – it does just that: light, zippy, and unsuspectingly powerful.
A little more history: the drink dates back to 1915 when it was first concocted by Harry MacElhone at the New York Bar in Paris. Its name followed shortly after when the drink’s kick was likened to the firepower of the French 75mm field gun.
The balance of this cocktail is simple and elegant. Dry gin and Brut Champagne combine gently while not overpowering each other, and the sweet and citrus enhance the alcoholic ingredients. Everything melds together in a way that feels just right.
Here’s our recipe (hold the Cointreau) and a few recommendations for the ingredients:
1 oz. gin
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Brut Champagne or a dry sparkling white wine
Lemon twist, to garnish
Combine gin, sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into an iced champagne glass. Fill with Champagne. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
Choosing your gin: This cocktail is best when built with a dry gin – let the sugar do the sweetening. Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater are good for the job, but for something different, try Aviation Gin from Oregon ($29.99). The focus on botanicals such as cardamom and lavender provides a soft yet complex palate.
Choosing your bubbles: There is no substitute for a good Brut Champagne – Piper Heidsieck at $34.99 might be a good choice for balancing quality and price point. However, for most of us Champagne isn’t an everyday luxury. If you’re looking to fix up some French 75’s without breaking out the fancy bubbles, try Domaine J. Laurens Blanquette de Limoux “Moulin” ($14.99). It will give you the dry body you need and plenty of green apple and toasty flavors to bring the cocktail together.
I hope this post brings you on your way to enjoying one of my favorite pre-Prohibition cocktails. Leave a comment with your success stories or suggestions!