Dress up your gin with Champagne — it’s #ginuary, after all. Follow us as we explore the history of one exceptionally celebratory classic cocktail.
In a flute, the French 75 is the picture of elegance: crowned with a froth of fine Champagne and crested with a jaunty lemon twist, it’s an almost irresistibly appealing little tipple.
But make no mistake: thanks to its generous ratio of gin, the French 75 is headier than it looks. Rumour has it that the drink was named for the 75mm Howitzer field guns used during WWI. Why? Well, they both had a way of knocking you flat.
A few apocryphal stories even suggest that the French 75 was invented in the trenches; apparently, soldiers had all the necessary ingredients at their disposal — Champagne included — though they were forced to use empty shell casings in place of cocktail shakers.
If that sounds unlikely, that’s because it is — and the French 75’s murky origins almost certainly predate the war. As early as 1867, Charles Dickens was said to serve his guests “Tom gin and Champagne cups,” which, given their purported mix of gin, Champagne, and citrus, bear a striking resemblance to the ’75. As for the preference for gin and bubbly ensemble: it’s impossible to know how long that’s been de rigueur.
The version of the French 75 that we drink today is commonly traced back to the early 20th century, but even that is a little imprecise. Spirits writer Dave Wondrich suggests that the recipe was first written down in 1927, in a bootlegger-friendly cocktail guide called Here’s How! Others point to bartending legend Harry MacElhone, who made a name for himself at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, France. His 1920s volume, Harry’s ABCs of Mixing Cocktails, also included a recipe for the drink.
Speaking of Paris: that brings us to another disagreement underlying the French 75’s history. In select recipes for the cocktail, you’ll find that Cognac is called for in lieu of gin. This development supposedly reflects the drink’s French origins and pedigree, and if you order yourself a French 75 in New Orleans today, Cognac is still the spirit of choice.
Of course, we don’t like to judge, but if you’re making a French 75 of your own for Ginuary, we naturally recommend that gin be your choice. Find our recipe below — and don’t forget to get the good Champagne. Now is not the time for sparkling wine.
Recipe: The French 75