If you must know just one champagne cocktail, then this is the one to learn. It is an absolute classic, with its origins smack in the middle of the US prohibition period. Working out exactly where it came from is a challenge, so it is best to provide a timeline:
1867. English Author Charles Dickens entertains guests in his room at Parker House, Boston with “Tom gin and champagne cups,” which might refer to a Tom Collins with the soda swapped out for champagne. If this is the case, then this is the first record (written down in 1895) of something like a French 75 (which is exactly a Tom Collins with the soda swapped out for champers).
1898. The French Canon de 75 modèle 1897 75mm field gun ‘Soixante-Quinze’ is put into service with the French army.
World War 1. The French supply the American Expeditionary Forces with 2,000 Soixante-Quinzes, known to the Yanks as ‘French 75s.’ American flyers returning from the rigours of aerial battle in primitive warplanes would order a ’75,’ which was a drink made with gin and calvados.
Canon de 75 modèle 1897, still used for ceremonial duties with the French army
1922. The recipe for the 75 is published in Harry McElhone’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. McElhone was the ‘Harry’ of Harry’s New York Bar, 5 rue Daunou, 75002 Paris, birthplace of the Bloody Mary, the White Lady and the Side Car. The recipe calls for grenadine, absinthe, calvados and Bombay London gin.
1927. The modern French 75 with gin, syrup, lemon and champagne, is published by Judge Jnr in Here’s How!, which was a small supplement to a comedy magazine published in a New York at the height of prohibition. At this point, it is still called a 75. Here’s How! was a deliberately small book – small, so it could be easily concealed by bootleggers running alcohol to the mafia-run speakeasies.
1930. The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, picks up the Here’s How! recipe, adds the word ‘French,’ and prints it. This is the trigger point at which the French 75 went viral. The French 75 is notable as the only classic American cocktail invented at the time when alcohol was illegal.
On the ingredients, Plymouth gin is nice because it does not have overpowering amounts of juniper in it to fight with the taste of the champagne. The champagne needs to be a brut – we are not looking for sweetness. Prosecco is a no-no.
- 30 ml Plymouth gin
- 15 ml fresh lemon juice
- 2 dashes of sugar syrup
- 60 ml champagne brut
Pour all the ingredients, except champagne, into a shaker filled with ice and shake.
Strain into a champagne flute.
Top up with champagne and stir gently.
Garnish is usually lemon peel.
There is another version of the French 75 that uses cognac instead of gin. Folks argue about whether the gin or the cognac version is the original – some accusing the Brits of messing it up by adding gin. I have done the diligence on this, and I am a certain as anyone could be that the drink is supposed to contain gin, and that this was invented – or at least written down and named – in New York. Some prefer their French 75 in a highball with ice – I am not so sure because the nucleating points on ice are the enemy of fizz, and the drink is diluted gin and diluted champers ... do we really want melted water in that?