Today we have a guest post from my partner in life and fun, Mark Patrick Spencer, who also happens to be a writer. Go figure. Mark has become quite the master bartender over the years, but his devotion and talent in mixing my favorite cocktail, the French 75, is unsurpassed. For his inaugural, and I hope first of many, post to Bon Vivant, he’s sharing his tale of the cocktail and well-honed recipe. Enjoy!
There are many opportunities that for no good reason, we don’t act upon. The neighbor we wave to, but never stop to say hi; the co-worker we’ve deemed it acceptable to just pass in the hallway; the inviting bar we drive by but never go into. Then one day you do say hello to the neighbor and they tell you a wonderful story about the history of your neighborhood. One day you do talk to that co-worker and find that they are much more interesting than Ted from accounting, and one day you do enter that bar and find that it’s just your style. The reason I bring this up is that is my experience with the French 75 – an effervescent, Champagne cocktail.
The French 75 is an old-school drink that hadn’t registered on my radar until two years ago. My late arrival to this delightful beverage was, in part, due to my shying away from the gins and cognacs of the world. I assumed they’d be harsh to my young palette, which was used to only bourbons and lagers. So, though I often saw it written on the chalkboard of one of my favorite neighborhood bars, I would pass it by.
Another issue could be the name. It always felt cooler to say, “Give me a Manhattan” or “I’ll have an Old Fashioned, Pete,” than “a French 75, please.” For some reason, I always say, “please,” when I order a French 75. The first time, I was so gun-shy about ordering one, that upon my first adventure into it’s bubbly depths, I felt it necessary to tell the bartender I was ordering the French 75 for my girlfriend, who happened to be sitting outside.
As I sat outside on the patio – alone, with my French 75 right next to my Manhattan – I watched the bubbles race towards the sun, took a sip and realized I had made a new friend. Then, as with all new cocktail loves, followed glorious days of standing in bars loudly proclaiming my desire, “I’ll have a French 75! Please!”
So – if you’re new to the French 75 – here is how I make the classic.
1½ ounces gin
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
Fill to the top with Champagne
The ingredients are simple, and while some people believe in strictly adhering to certain recipes, I recommend tweaking your recipe to your own liking. This isn’t rocket science, folks.
Gin versus Cognac
As you can see from my recipe above, I am a gin guy. However, many bars, such as Arnaud’s French 75 bar, will as a rule make your French 75 with cognac as the base, so if you are ordering one out, specify your preference. At home, I like to use Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin (around $26 for the 750ml bottle).
While it is possible to buy simple syrup, after reading the recipe I just made my own. I used a 1:1 sugar to water ratio – the sugar will dissolve relatively quickly over warm heat. Store in your refrigerator to let it cool off. Make your simple syrup in small quantities. However, note that using a 2:1 sugar to water ratio for your simple syrup will give it a longer shelf life.
Use fresh lemons! The fresh juice of a lemon trumps any lemon juice from a bottle. The difference is noticeable – the juice from a bottle will make your French 75 far too sweet. You can get about 1 ounce of juice from a fresh, medium sized lemon.
I’ve never had a French 75 where I thought the choice of Champagne tainted the taste of the cocktail. So, go with what you know. Are you having a special night and want to impress your significant other? Splurge on some Taittinger Champagne Brut (around $50). Are you having a party with a lot of friends? Don’t be afraid to grab some Chateau Napoleon Extra Dry California Champagne (around $8).
And I feel this is truly extra – the lemon twist. If you absolutely feel it necessary to add some garnish or zest to your drink, grab that channel knife and dig in.
A drink to be had decked out any day of the week in your Sunday best, or casually sipped on your deck on a Sunday, the French 75 is a drink for all occasions. Just proceed with caution, for this drink can kick like Man-O-War heading down the stretch for the finish line.
Mark Patrick Spencer is a writer of poetry, fiction and screenplays living in New Orleans. When not working to perfect his French 75 recipe, he can be found waving from his porch or dancing in his living room. Follow Spencer on Twitter @thesonofnoise.