Friday, October 19, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The French 75

I’ve told this story before. I’m telling it again. It’s not like you’re paying for this.

Scene: Prescription Cocktail Club, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, July 2011

Dramatis Personae: Vince, a dashing American abroad
                                 Rosemarie, his lovely wife
                                 Sullivan, a far more dashing French bartender

Vince: Didn’t you want to have a glass of champagne or a champagne cocktail? This would be the place.

Rosemarie: I want to order a French 75. But do they call it that here? Maybe it’s just a 75.

Me: Huh. I never thought of that.

Sullivan: What else can I get you?

Rosemarie: Could you recommend a champagne cocktail?

Sullivan: Of course. A French 75?

Rosemarie: That would be perfect.

The French 75’s name is derived from the Canon de 75 modèle 1897 (or M1897) 75-mm light field artillery gun. A lethal piece of weaponry that could, with the right personnel, briefly fire up to 30 rounds per minute, it was used by the French army and the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. Called the “Soixante Quinze” (“75”) en Français, the gun loaned its name to the cocktail because that’s how hard the drink hits you.

This much we know is true. The rest is what that French call une zone grise.

Histoire. We know that Harry’s New York Bar, Paris put the French 75 on the map, and that the Stork Club in New York made its name Stateside. But where did the drink come from before Harry’s? In Classic Cocktails, legendary London bartender Salvatore Calabrese says that Harry MacElhone took the “75 Cocktail” made with gin and lemon served at Henry’s Bar, Paris and augmented it with champagne. Other experts note that the 1919 edition of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails credits an English bartender with the recipe. Insert Gallic shrug here.

Ingrédients. The champagne’s not the question. It’s the other spirit. The early recipes all say gin. But along comes David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks first insisting on cognac, then uncorking this whopper: “Gin is sometimes used in place of cognac in this drink, but then, of course, it no longer should be called French.” The estimable Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan ventures that no one had heard of a brandy version until Embury suggested one, leading to great confusion in the land. Patrick Gavin Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual achieves détente by offering a range of options. A French 75 is made with gin, a French 95 with bourbon (and orange juice, according to Dale DeGroff), a French 125 with brandy. I say stick with the original: gin, lemon juice, sugar, champers.

Verrerie. You’d think glassware would be the easy part, but no, that’s got to be a bone of contention, too. Many recipes call for the French 75 to be served in a Collins glass with ice. Some, God help us, even call for straws. Maybe it’s how I was raised, but I refuse to drink champagne with a straw. I’ve also seen the drink poured into a standard cocktail coupe. My rule is simple: if there’s bubbly involved, it goes in a flute. More beverages should be drunk from flutes. Perhaps this choice might result in less champagne, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want the gin’s presence to be felt, after all.

The French 75 

1 oz. gin
 ½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
several ozs. champagne

Combine the first three ingredients. Shake. Pour into a champagne flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.