If you had to pick a drink that sums up Christmas and New Year Champagne wouldn’t be a bad choice. From a Champagne breakfast on Christmas morning to popping the cork as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve Champagne is deeply linked to the festive season. While a glass of Champagne on its own is nothing to complain about, sometimes something with a little more perk might be wished for. And when it comes to Champagne cocktails I think it’s hard to beat the French 75.
Named after the French 75mm howitzer artillery piece from World War I the history of the French 75, like so many other classic cocktails, is rather uncertain – with even the base spirit in question. Some claim it was invented for the fighter pilots of 411, the Lafayette Escadrille. An outfit made up of French and American aces, the story goes that they began toasting their fallen comrades with Champagne but soon started to fortify the drink with something more potent. Lacking whiskey, the Americans opted for the more readily accessible Cognac.
Others argue the drink was instead invented by the British who during World War I received a daily gin ration and began adding it to the locally available Champagne. This gin version is the recipe that first appeared in print, and is the most well known French 75 recipe. I generally prefer the gin version (I am British after all!) though it has to be said the Cognac version severed at Arnoud’s French 75 bar isn’t bad at all.
- 2 shots / 60 ml / 2 oz dry gin (or Cognac, if you must)
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz lemon juice
- ¼ shot / 7.5 ml / ¼ oz sugar syrup
- 5 shots / 150 ml / 5 oz Champagne
- Shake well with ice and fine strain in to a Champagne glass. Top off with Champagne, and garnish with an orange zest twist.
Bright, bubbly, with the lovely zesty tang of the lemon and the extra oomph of the gin, the French 75 is for me the perfect Champagne cocktail. The orange zest twist isn’t a traditional garnish for the drink but I love the zesty orange aroma it adds to the nose, which complements the rest of the ingredients nicely. Harry Cradock writes in the Savoy Cocktail Book that the drink “Hits with precision”. Quite.
I only ever seem to drink these around Christmas time, but I can’t think of any occasion that wouldn’t be brightened by the addition of a French 75 so really must mix these up more often. With regards to the Champagne, using Krug would be a little wasteful not to mention sacrilege to la maison Krug, however like all cocktails it is a sum of its parts and you should at least use a bubbly you would be happy to drink on its own.
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