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Once upon a time, if you asked for a French 75 in a bar there was a fifty-fifty chance you’d be served the cocktail you thought you’d ordered — and if you didn’t you’d be very disappointed. In the mid 1920s, a French 75 was either what cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders today consider the classic recipe for a French 75: gin, lemon juice, sugar, and sparkling wine, or a combination of gin, calvados, lemon juice, and grenadine.
How, exactly, the cocktail morphed from bright pink to slightly yellow topped with sparkles is something of a mystery (and may not be that important, as the superior combination, if I may, clearly won out) but every iteration of the now-classic drink has two things in common: gin and a grateful nod to France’s 75-millimeter field gun, the weapon in the hands of nearly every French soldier in World War I.
Able to fire 15 rounds a minute, the French 75-millimeter was a light, travel-ready, and fiercely powerful weapon at the time, its name synonymous with deadly efficiency. It was really only a matter of time until a bartender, as is our wont, snatched it up for a new drink they’d been working on. The first iteration — the previously mentioned gin, applejack, grenadine, lemon juice — crossed a bar top in 1915 and was called the Soixante-Quinze, or “75” in French. These cocktails, too, earned a reputation for laying men low.
Today’s French 75 is no less formidable; it is, after all, alcohol topped with alcohol, and deserves to be handled with respect: That sparkling-wine-and-gin combination can really sneak up on you.
For all its loaded history and potential, however, the French 75 is incredibly easy to make.
What you’ll need:
1 oz gin
½ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Combine the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup (a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water) in a cocktail tin and shake the miniature cocktail with ice until well mixed (about 5-7 good shakes).
Drink-building logic and most descriptions of making a French 75 will tell you to strain the liquid contents of the shaker into a glass and “top with sparkling wine.” This isn’t wrong, you want to make sure you have enough room for all the gin/lemon/sugar goodness, but it can be messy.
Because the gin cocktail is heavier than the sparkling wine, adding the sparkling into the glass on top of it can lead to an overflow of bubbles — especially if you’re using a champagne flute. By first pouring two ounces of sparkling wine (half or just a little over half of the glass) into the glass and then adding the gin cocktail on top of it, you avoid bouncing the sparkling wine off the denser cocktail and fizzing up and out of the glass. Pouring the cocktail onto the wine also allows the finished drink to mix itself (yay for science!) and leave you with a well-balanced, neatly poured rendition of what I will always refer to as the Little Black Dress of cocktails.