The French “72”?
We live in a wonderful community where social events like wine-sharing nights at the clubhouse are not uncommon. Although I was planning something different to celebrate my birthday, we decided to participate in the most recent wine-sharing gathering that was taking place on that evening. I thought about a couple of ways to share something celebratory, but there’s nothing like bubbly to make it special. That’s when I decided on the classic French 75.
Named after the French-designed 75-millimeter shell used by the U.S. Army during World War I, the origin of the drink is more elusive than the name. Cocktail historian David Wondrich tells us that it is the only classic cocktail made in America during Prohibition. It first appeared in print in 1927, but it was its inclusion in the initial 1930 installment of The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock that took it to classic status. But this was merely the drink with that name. The drink itself has roots going back the latter half of the previous century when folks were mixing in various ways gin or cognac with sugar, citrus, and Champagne.
Regardless, the basic recipe has held fast:
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. sugar or 1 – 2 tsp of simple syrup (adjust for your individual sweet tooth)
- 2 oz. London dry gin or cognac
- Chilled Champagne (or other brut bubbly) to fill
Combine the lemon juice, sugar (or simple syrup), and gin or cognac into an ice-filled shaker, shake, and strain into an ice-filled wine glass or Champagne flute. Slowly fill with Champagne. A nice lemon twist is the traditional garnish.
In his book, The Essential Cocktail, Dale DeGroff, the man who began the classic, finely crafted cocktail revolution at New York’s venerable Rainbow Room back in the mid 80’s, tells us that part of this drink’s DNA is improvisation. It lends itself to getting all dressed up with plenty of places to go. It was this comment that aimed me to something a bit more punchy.
A week before, I had canned some local cherries in a syrup I made from those cherries. I grabbed a jar of those and in place of the simple syrup, I used two teaspoons of that cherry syrup. I then added another teaspoon of the syrup from my cocktail cherries (it includes several liqueurs along with cinnamon and cloves). Along with the syrups, I threw into the mixing tin 3 or 4 of the preserved cherries and several mint leaves freshly cut from our herb garden and muddled all of it. From there, I returned to the original recipe for the fresh lemon juice (½ oz.) and cognac (2 oz.). I gave it all a good shake with some ice, strained it into a wine glass with some fresh ice, and added the bubbly. I garnished it with one of the cherries, a lemon twist, a half slice of orange, and a couple of sprigs of mint.
I wish I had taken a picture because it looked stunningly alluring. So much so that I had to whip up another batch for sharing. After all, it was a “wine-share” function! Turns out, it was as delicious as it was good looking. One woman asked if I could make it a little sweeter, I did so by adding more simple syrup to her liking. By using simple syrup instead of the cherry syrup, I was better able to maintain the balance of flavors while still sweetening the drink.
It feels deceiving to keep the name “French 75” for this variation. Since it was my birthday and I’m not nearly as devastating as the French 75 artillery, I’ll back it off a few notches to my age:
The French “72”
- 3 – 4 Preserved cherries in syrup
- 6 – 8 mint leaves
- 2 tsp of cherry syrup
- 1 tsp of cherry syrup from cocktail cherries
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- 2 oz. Cognac or gin
- Brut sparkling wine to fill
Notes on ingredients: Not everyone has home-canned cherries with homemade cherry syrup. Despite the recipe being in my book (Guerrilla Cocktails, on Amazon.com), not everyone has made my cocktail cherries. So, to be fair, I think using the syrup from most any of the better commercial cocktail or other preserved cherries is fair game. I would suggest something like Luxardo Maraschino, Amarena cherries, or Tillen Farms Badda Bing cherries (which is what I have used for my cocktail cherries). The lemon juice should be fresh squeezed. No need to go over the top with Cognac; I used Martell, which is just fine for mixing. Any of the standard London dry style gins will be good choices if you decide to go with gin. Champagne is always nice, but I went with Gruet NV Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine, well priced and perfect for mixing.