While some cocktail aficionados may say you can never have too much of a good thing, other folks may wake up the next morning feeling like they’ve been shot in the head.
So goes the lore of the French 75 cocktail, which got its moniker during World War I. Because this potent potable packed a powerful punch, it was named after the Canon de 75 modèle 1897, the French 75mm field gun.
Today, civilians can easily buy AR-15 rifles in the U.S. that can shoot up to 700 rounds per minute. In its time, however, the 75mm field gun — capable of firing 15 rounds per minute — was a formidable weapon, credited with playing an important role in the Allied victory. The French 75 cocktail is said to have had such a kick that it felt like being shot by one of these guns.
The effervescent tipple is forged from gin, Champagne, lemon and sugar. One story goes that eager Allied soldiers wanted to mix a gin highball with club soda, but, finding none available, they substituted Champagne. This anecdote would make the French 75 a variation of the Tom Collins (gin, soda, lemon and sugar).
An older tale associates this drink with Charles Dickens, who was said to have served guests “gin and Champagne cups” when he entertained during his stay at Boston’s Parker House hotel in 1885.
However, the book “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails” discredits both of these stories. This book, published in 1922, contains a recipe for a French 75 made from Calvados, gin, absinthe and grenadine.
Recipes similar to the current one appeared in a 1927 cocktail book called “Here’s How!” and in “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” published in 1930.
The drink’s popularity increased when it appeared on the silver screen in the classic “Casablanca” (1942) and the John Wayne films “A Man Betrayed” (1941) and “Jet Pilot” (1957).
If you’d like to partake of a French 75, you have several choices in D.C.’s sophisticated bar scene. At Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons Hotel, you’ll find it on their “classics” menu under gin. With its extensive Champagne selection, Le Diplomate on 14th Street NW is an excellent spot for this cultured cocktail.
If you’re more of a gin fan, then try Wisdom on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, which boasts the largest selection of gin in the region. Finally, if you’re looking for a cocktail from “Casablanca,” you don’t have to wander to “all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world.” Just pop into the Gin Joint, located under New Heights Restaurant in Woodley Park.
With only four ingredients, it’s easy mix up a French 75 at home. Its sparkling personality makes it perfect for a brunch party and the combination of gin, lemon and bubbles make it breezy poolside sipper.
The flavor profile will shift slightly depending on your gin of preference, whether citrusy, herbal or juniper-forward. One word of advice: since the largest portion of the drink consists of sparkling wine, choose something you wouldn’t mind drinking on its own. And beware of your limits — unless you want to wake up in triage, too much of a good thing is not always good!