No matter the season, you can always find an occasion for festive champagne cocktails—and none are as well known as the French 75.
Supposedly named for the light artillery gun that became a symbol of victory in World War I, the French 75 cocktail has a convoluted history. One of the most widespread myths attached to it is that it was created in the trenches by English soldiers. These mythological soldiers somehow had gin, citrus, sugar, and champagne...but no cups. To celebrate a victory, they improvised by mixing and serving the cocktail in a shell casing from the field gun. As you may have discerned, it's unlikely that there is any truth to this origin story.
The more likely story is that it was invented in the 1910s in a bar in London. Until recently, the French 75 was cited as one of the only cocktails to have been created during Prohibition. But written records indicate that it first appeared in print in the 1919 edition of Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. In the publication, MacElhone states that the drink was created in 1915. As the story goes, a bartender took the Tom Collins and substituted champagne for soda.
Although this version had the same ingredients as the modern French 75, there was one main difference: it was served on ice. By the time the recipe reached David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in 1948, the ice had been removed, starting the modern trend of serving it in a champagne flute. This recipe also called for gin or brandy. One of the prevailing theories on the subject is that brandy was used to make the drink more French. Others call this configuration a French 125.
But its seemingly straightforward appearance in print is deceiving. The French 75 likely existed for centuries before it was given a name. Charles Dickens is known to have asked in 1867 for a Tom gin and champagne cup. As a champagne cup was made of sugar, citrus, and champagne, the addition of gin basically made it a French 75. This combination was popular with upper-class gentleman of that time, and even made its way across the pond (and then another pond), as it’s cited as the favorite drink of Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii.
This simple beverage was likely enjoyed without a name for years before it was stuck with the French 75 moniker. Although this may seem strange, the same thing happened with the old fashioned, the Sazarac, the daiquiri, the gimlet, and quite a number of other classic beverages.
Hit The Lab
From Henry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book.
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
Champagne to top
Measure all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through. Strain into a champagne flute. Slowly top with champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist.
From Kevin Diedrich, bar manager of Turnkey in San Francisco.
1 1/2 oz H by Hine cognac
1/2 oz elderflower liqueur
2 dashes absinthe
Sparkling wine to top
Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through. Double strain into a champagne flute and garnish with an orange twist