Wed 20 Jul 2011
Readers, several weeks ago, on a whim, I embarked on a research project about the classic cocktail called the French 75, named for the World War I-era artillery piece. I have been trying French 75s in bars and restaurants all over town; my research culminates in a series of articles for my Restaurant Insider column that runs in the Saturday Memphis News. The first part occurs this Saturday, July 23. In the meanwhile, because I have swallowed mainly “house versions” of the French 75, including a bizarre rendition that not only contained far more gin than sparkling wine but — sacre bleu! — a healthy pour of grenadine, I decided to make some at home for LL and me. I followed the recipe in my favorite bartender’s guide, the snappily written, perceptive and persnickety Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (Viking, 1998), by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead.
4 ounces Champagne
1/4 ounce gin
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce lemon juice
Shake gin, Cointreau and lemon juice with cracked ice; strain into a chilled flute. Top with chilled Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist. (Harrington and Moorhead permit a variation with cognac instead of gin, which makes a very different cocktail, you bet.)
The quality of the sparkling wine makes a difference. Most of the French 75s I have sampled lately in local bars have been made with inexpensive California or anonymous French sparkling wine. At one place, a young bartender used Mumm Cordon Rouge by mistake; it certainly made a superior cocktail (though she used too much lemon juice). I employed the Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut — I paid $35 locally — and that was even better. Tanqueray Gin, naturally, not a gin that’s too assertive. I thought I had an old bottle of Cointreau gathering dust in the back of the liquor cabinet, but that was not the case, so I had to buy one of those too, about $27 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle. This was beginning to be not a cheap cocktail, but if you’re going to do something it has to be done right. And of course after we had our excellent cocktails — and they were excellent, the best — we drank most of the rest of the Champagne. And Cointreau lasts practically forever. Gin, not so long in our house.
If you’re going to emulate my efforts, remember that 1/4 ounce equals 1 and 1/2 teaspoons. And, no, you don’t have to pour real Champagne, but do make certain that it’s a good-quality sparkling wine. Use a good peeler to render a very thin strip of lemon peel for the garnish.
A great French 75 is actually easy to make, and it’s a perfect cocktail for summer, light, delicate, effervescent and a little piece of cocktail history.