If this forced period of home time is doing anything for us, it’s expanding our palates and allowing time to explore new recipes and interesting cocktails. But first, we’re working our way through the classics—favorite signature drinks inspired by our past travels—with this week’s focus being how to make a French 75.
Traveling to Paris
For as lukewarm as I feel about London, I cannot get enough of Paris. It’s truly one of the world’s greatest cities and not the least bit overrated. I only wish I had better photos of it in my archives, but it’s been a hot minute—seven years!—since I was back, and I was more concerned with eating and drinking my way through the City of Lights than I was documenting the experience.
My inaugural visit to Paris was at the age of 20, some 17 years ago. I was traveling to Europe for four months by myself, and it was the first real stop on my Western European train journey. The first night after my transatlantic flight from Atlanta to the UK, I spent in a stuffy attic hostel room in London, weeping, wondering why I thought this was a good idea. The second morning, I boarded the Eurostar and three hours later arrived in Paris, completely in awe of my surroundings. I’ve been smitten with it ever since, even after a subsequent trip when I wound up wandering aimlessly around a sketchy part of Montmartre, near the Moulin Rouge, alone at night, lost.
Paris is one of those cities I could visit hundreds of times and discover something new on each visit. In fact, it’s one city I’ve yet to explore with SVV, so perhaps that needs to be added to our next European sojourn, if travel is ever a thing we can all do again (*weeps into her French 75*).
The last great book I read was Code Name Hélène—if you are a lover of historical fiction, I must insist you drop everything and read this right now—and it gave me so much Paris wanderlust, even though the book begins at the start of World War II just before the Nazi occupation. Isn’t it weird how a book about one of the darkest periods in Europe’s history can make you want to travel there even more badly than you already did?
The history of the French 75
In Code Name Hélène, the heroine drinks French 75s like they’re water; she isn’t, in fact, that different than SVV and me, it turns out. We were gifted with some barrel-aged gin just weeks before I read this book, so we had already added the French 75 to our rotation of cocktails as we attempted to drink more than just gin and tonics as our routine nightcaps (though if that’s your preference, no judgment—we’ll be sharing variations of those on the blog very soon!).
As you might expect, the history of the French 75 dates back to war times, only World War I and not II. It allegedly was created by barman Harry MacElhone and named for the French 75mm field gun; the combination was said to have a kick that resembled being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun.
Like most origins of popular things and drinks, however, this is a contested story. In some accounts, the French 75 was credited to becoming popular during Prohibition Era New York, while others say Charles Dickens favored a version of this cocktail, which was referred to as a champagne cup, during his U.S. travels way back in 1867. Believe which account you prefer, but I like the romance of its creation happening in Paris a century ago.
How to make a French 75
The recipe for a French 75 calls for a few key ingredients, all of which you should be able to find at your local grocery and liquor stores. Before you start, though, make a batch of simple syrup by boiling equal parts water (1 cup) and white sugar (1 cup) until it dissolves, then let it cool. Once you’re done with your cocktailing for the day, store the simple syrup on a mason jar in your fridge, and it will last much longer. There’s absolutely no need to buy simple syrup from the store, as it takes under 10 minutes to make on your own.
Some say the French 75 was originally made with cognac, while others swear gin. For the purpose of this cocktail exercise, we prefer to make our French 75 with gin.
The ingredients you need to make a French 75 are as follows:
- 2 ounces of dry gin
- 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces Champagne
- Spiral lemon twist for a garnish
For high-end cocktails, we prefer H Clark Distillery’s dry gin, which you can easily find at most liquor stores if you’re in Tennessee. We also experimented by making a French 75 recipe using H Clark’s heirloom gin, but I prefer the dry for this cocktail. If you’re out of state, Tanqueray is our go-to for a more widely-distributed gin, but any dry gin will work.
We prefer to use a dropper when the simple syrup is still hot so as to not get scalded, but this is not necessary.
Add ice, the gin, the lemon juice and the simple syrup to a shaker. Shake thoroughly until well-chilled. Pour into champagne flutes, then top off with Champagne or another kind of sparkling white wine. We used a $15 bottle of LaMarca Prosecco this time, because it’s what we had chilled in the fridge.
Using the lemon rind from the lemons you juiced, add a lemon twist for a garnish to impress your guests.
Serve and enjoy!
Note: Depending on the gin you use, this drink can come off as a bit bitter, so you may have to adjust the simple syrup to taste.
How do you make a French 75? Do you have a different spin on it? And what other cocktails have you been enjoying lately?
For more cocktails around the world, check out these recipes:
- How to Make a Blood Orange Margarita
- How to Make a White and Black Russian
- How to Make a Gin and Tonic, English-Style