The more I research classic cocktails, the more I realise their origins are often as mixed up as the drink itself. The history of the French 75 is no different, in fact, it’s a little worse. Not only are there multiple stories to claiming its invention, but there are also multiple recipes and even a couple of name changes along the way. Argh… so French!
Except that it’s not necessarily a French cocktail, that’s right, the French 75 was in fact not invented by the French, but rather named after the French 75mm field gun that was instrumental in the Allies winning WW1 – The claim was that both would knock you flat! The origin story I most enjoy is that of thirsty Allied soldiers substituting club soda for champagne to mix their drinks. Some even claim that it was drunk from spent shell cartridges. Et voilá, not only did you have the base of a new cocktail, but also some pretty drunk ass soldiers!
There are however claims of Charles Dickens entertaining his guests 50 years prior with Gin and champagne cups consisting of lemon and sugar but that particular drink was unnamed – It would appear that a cocktail is not yet a cocktail until it is baptised. French bartender Henry Tépé of Henry’s Bar, Paris named a cocktail “Soixante-Quinze” (Seventy-Five) around 1915, but this was a concoction of Gin, Grenadine and Cognac so not quite the same. The drink has since undergone many variations, some involving, Calvados (Apple Brandy), Cognac or Absinthe, some even including all three – That oughta put hair on your chest!
In the end, they should have just called it ‘Delicious’, because really that’s what it is. Whatever the story, here’s how you make it.
Despite all its variations, the recipe we know and love today was established around 1927 and revived again in the late 1980’s. The ingredients are simple and the method couldn’t be simpler, so this shouldn’t take long.
2 Ounces Gin
1 tsp sugar
1/2 Ounce lemon juice
5 Ounces Brut Champagne (though this depends on the size of your glass of course)
As with all cocktails, the quality of your ingredients is paramount, so we always suggest using freshly squeezed lemon juice. It doesn’t have to be squeezed on this Phillipe Starck Alessi juicer, but it sure helps add to the French fanciness of it all.
Pour your lemon juice into a cocktail shaker filled with Ice and follow with a good dry gin. Pop in a sugar cube or 2 (depending on how sweet you like your drinks of course) or better yet, use a superfine sugar or sugar syrup if you have it on hand. Lastly, shake the whole thing up to chill the ingredients and melt your sugar! Remember, shaking is a great way to chill something with minimum dilution, but you gotta be quick as the more your ice melts the weaker your drink becomes.
At this point, what you basically have is a Tom Collins before the addition of Club Soda- The Royal Tom Collins is yet another variation on the origin of the drink BTW. Strain the mixture into a champagne glass before you get your chilled champagne ready! The modern-day recipe calls for a Champagne flute, but we like drinking it the way they did in the 1900’s so opted for these Champagne saucers instead.
Now comes the fun part. Pop Pop Pop that bottle!! Wait for the applause to die down and top up your champagne glasses slowly to maintain the fizz. A good quality champagne will, of course, give you a better fizz and a smaller hangover, so pick wisely.
Lastly, and only because details matter, garnish with a lemon rind before clinking your glasses and enjoying! “Vive le Liberté” !!
Once you get the French 75 down you may want to try your hand at some of the Other variations that have found their way into cocktail history. The French 95, takes an American approach by substituting gin for bourbon, while the French 125 celebrates France with cognac over gin. For those feeling brave, you can attempt La Perla’s (a tequila bar in Paris) Mexican 55 that uses tequila over gin and adds a dash of bitters or you can replace the tequila with Vodka for a French 76 – Though surely that would be a Russian 75? The list goes on, and like most drinks it all comes down to personal preference, personally, we like to stick with the classics on this one.
Okay. Drink responsibly and stay fancy.