One might define elegance as beautiful simplicity. An elegant solution, an elegant dress, these are brought about by insight and understanding of their subject, and exemplify doing more with less. Details are minimal, and the more significant for it, and the whole gives an ingenious pleasing quality.
And that is a reasonable way to think about the French 75 cocktail.
First, a brief rundown of how we got this little gem.
During World War I, 1915 to be specific, Harry MacElhone of Paris’ New York Bar came up with a drink said to have the punch of a (French) 75mm field gun. A variation on a Tom Collins, also served in a highball glass, it included Calvados, gin, grenadine, and absinthe. He called it a 75, and published it in his 1922 book, Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. Another book the same year had the recipe and credited MacElhone, but included lemon juice.
Five years later, Judge Jr. published Here’s How, with a 75 that used gin, sugar, lemon juice, and champagne. This is pretty much what we have today.
Three years later (we’re up to 1930 now), The Savoy Cocktail Book reprinted the recipe and gave it the current, and somewhat less confusing, name, French 75.
It’s been popular off and on since then, occasionally boosted by mentions in movies like Casablanca.
Oddly enough, the final result isn’t far off a common 19th century drink, the Champagne Cup.
Sometimes you see this without a garnish, and sometimes with a regular twist or section of lemon peel. If you have the time, though, and a good lemon, the lovely treatment seen in the image above is definitely the way to go.
¾ lemon juice
½ simple syrup
2 dry sparkling wine (pref. Brut Champagne)
– 6″ lemon twist
Combine gin, juice, and syrup in a shaker; shake well and strain into flute. Top with wine.
Curl twist around a muddler (or your finger) and add to flute.
In New Orleans your French 75 might well be made with cognac. People will claim without any particular proof that it’s the original way to do it, but I can’t find anything earlier than The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, which is from 1948.
That said, cognac makes an interesting variation, something darker and spicier and perhaps a good option for colder months. I call it a French Quarter 75. It will accept a somewhat sweeter wine, too. You’ll note that the recipe below also has a little less lemon juice.
French Quarter 75
½ lemon juice
½ simple syrup
2 sparkling wine (pref. Champagne or prosecco)
– lemon twist
Combine cognac, juice, and syrup in a shaker; shake well and strain into flute. Top with wine. Garnish.