Continuing with my feature of the drinks that my compatriots and I imbibed at Boston’s Drink, next up is the French 75. Now, some might say that this drink has no business showing up at a bachelor party. It’s got Champagne in it ferchrissakes! Well… yes. You’re right. But what can you do? My friend, who’s not really into the whole cocktail ‘thing’, asked for something featuring London Dry gin. He didn’t want citrus of any kind. Our waiter (who was excellent, by the way) inquired if he’d like Champagne with his gin, which impressed my associate sufficiently that he gave it a whirl. If it was up to me, I would have made the man a Martini or a Bijou or an Imperial, but what the hell do I know? Not to deride the French 75 – it’s great, albeit perhaps a bit… fancy boy. Maybe that’s just my “bachelor party persona” talking – I’m saddened to admit that sometimes machismo is hard to resist under certain circumstances.
Anyway, let’s focus here. The French 75. Named after the 75 mm M1897 field gun that the French et al. used extensively throughout World War I to blast German/Ottoman/ Austro-Hungarian belligerents. This canon was widely regarded as the first modern artillery weapon, featuring a fancy-schmancy hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism that kept the gun’s trail and wheels perfectly still during the firing sequence. This resulted in a ferocious firing rate; a gun that packed a wallop, but went about its dirty business in a smooth and controlled fashion – exactly like its namesake drink.
The French 75, or Soixante Quinze en Français, was created by Harry MacElhone in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris (later rechristened Harry’s New York Bar). I’ve read that the drink first showed up in print in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, but Mr. MacElhone’s own cocktail book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, was published in 1922 – I find it hard to believe that the French 75 didn’t make the cut. Sadly, I don’t own either of these books, so I am unable to confirm or deny this information. As I write this, it’s become glaringly obvious that I need to remedy this disturbing dearth of cocktail literature immediately and order these two classics tout de suite.
Speaking of glaringly obvious, the French 75 is a essentially a Tom Collins with Champagne used as the lengthener rather than soda water. Oui, c’est vrai. Regardez et vous verrez par vous-mêmes. A lot of people serve this cocktail in a Champagne flute or the like, but I like staying true to the original recipe and serving it in a Collins glass. Besides, a Collins glass looks more like a cannon barrel. En joue… feu!
Add the gin, freshly-squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup to a shaker, along with a whole mess of ice and shake avec violence extrême. Ne faîtes pas de prisonniers! Open up the shaker and pour in your Champagne (or other sparkling wine that is made using la méthode traditionnelle, such as Crémant de Bourgogne or Cava). Double strain into a chilled Collins glass full of ice and garnish with a lemon twist.
If you don’t have largish, cold, dry ice cubes, i.e. your cubes are weeny and all melty, skip the ice in the glass – if you use your weak-ass ice, you’re going to turn your drink to dreck – the rapid dilution will shut down your precious Champagne bubbles immédiatement. Oh, mon Dieu, I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.
The use of bona fide Champagne, particularly one with nice toasty brioche notes and stone fruit flavours, will make an enormous difference here. I went with Moët Imperial because it’s the only Champagne available in 200 mL format. L’économie protège du besoin, ya know.
Où est mon cocktail? C’est ne pas mon cocktail – ce cocktail est trop délectable. My preconceived notions surrounding this drink were way off base. I had it in my head that it would be too sweet for my goût amer. But on account of the Brut Champagne and London Dry Gin, it’s not too sweet at all. Likewise, given that I prefer my sours balanced more towards the sour end of the spectrum than the sweet, I added un peu moins simple syrup than most recipes call for. Le résultat? A super bright, refreshing, junipery, lemony, sour, yeasty delight. I could fire back a few of these in rapid succession on a hot day. But one must keep in mind that this smooth sipping tipple contains a devious amount of booze. Before you know it, you’ll be bourré comme un coing. Sneaky fuckin’ French 75, sacré bleu.
Vive la France! Now go away, you silly English types.