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The French 75: A Champagne Cognac Cocktail

During festive occasions the crack of ice connotes a party where people and drinks mix. For Cognac drinkers, perhaps, during such occasions, it may be appropriate to ‘mix it up’ and experiment with mixing Cognac. Cognac, purists argue, is already a mix of various  eaux de vie that were selected and aged by the Cognac’s master blender and further mixing Cognac would do an injustice to the cognac and its producer.

Despite the protestations of purists, Cognac has long been mixed with other drinks and water and often with the blessing of some Cognac producers.

If you are in the mood to experiment with mixing Cognac, the French 75 may be the drink for you. The French 75 is a cocktail with a more than 100 year history and is a mix of Cognac and Champagne. If such mixing sounds like an affront to Cognac, tell yourself you are improving the Champagne, not harming the Cognac.

The French 75

A French 75 is a Cognac drink with bubbles, with the bubbles provided from the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. The cognac in a French 75 is often a Champagne Cognac, a cognac originating from one of the two Champagne crus or appellations of the Cognac region. The French 75 itself can be deemed to be a mix of two drinks originating from two Champagnes – the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of northern France and the Cognac produced in the Champagne appellations of the Cognac region of south western France.

How to Make a French 75

The French 75 cocktail is made by mixing sugar syrup, Cognac, lemon juice and Champagne. The sugar syrup is made by heating a cup of sugar in a cup of water until the sugar dissolves. The Cognac, lemon juice and sugar syrup are poured into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shaken and then poured into a Champagne flute and topped off with Champagne.

French 75 recipes vary as to the proportions of Champagne to Cognac from two to one to five to one. Amounts of sugar syrup and lemon also vary according to taste. The International Bartenders Association’s French 75 recipe calls for a two to one ratio of Champagne to Cognac with half the amount of lemon juice in relation to the amount of Cognac and just two “dashes” of sugar syrup.

Sometimes, gin is substituted for Cognac in the mixing of a French 75.

Pierre Ferrrand Cognac Lable

The French 75 Story

The origins of the French 75 are shrouded in legend. All versions of the French 75 creation date back to World War I France. One tale has American soldiers inventing the cocktail while stumbling upon a bombed out farmhouse whose cellar was well stocked with Champagne and Cognac. The American soldiers simply mixed the two and BOOM the French 75 was created.

The BOOM referred to the French 75 artillery gun that was invented in 1897 and was used widely during World War I. The French 75 packed a hefty punch as it shelled its target by firing off 75mm 12 pound rounds. Hence, the drink reference to this small cannon.

This version of the invention of the French 75 cocktail is most likely an apocryphal tale.

Another contemporaneous World War I account has the birth of the French 75 cocktail taking place at the Hotel Chatham in Paris where French and American soldiers would frequent and drink a concoction of Champagne and Cognac mixed with lemon and sugar and named it honor of the French 75 mm. artillery gun.

A more formal claim is that the drink was created by Harry MacElhone while working at a bar he would one day own- Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Harry’s French 75 cocktail recipe is listed in the 1922 edition of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails.

Jean Parker Shepherd, Jr. an American radio show personality once embellished that French-American World War I fighter pilot Gervais Raoul Lufbery created the French 75 cocktail by adding Cognac to his Champagne in order to give it a bigger bang.

The French 75 in Movies

In “Casablanca”, Yvonne, Rick’s old fling returns to his bar with her Nazi officer boyfriend who orders a French 75. Of consolation to Cognac purists, perhaps the officer’s French 75 was mixed with gin. After all, Rick’s place in Casablanca was a gin joint.

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