The Complicated History of the French 75

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Just about every classic cocktail out there comes with a whole lot of mythology surrounding its origin. The Manhattan was supposedly created by Winston Churchill’s mother, for instance (it wasn’t). Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer, was reportedly the first person in Cuba to combine rum, lime, and sugar – a premise that astounds me. But I can’t think of a classic that comes with more baggage than the French 75. 

If you believe popular history, the French 75 was first concocted by English soldiers fighting in France during the First World War. These intrepid imbibers took the only raw ingredients they had on hand, allegedly, and combined gin, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and Champagne, and served the whole concoction in a 75 millimeter artillery shell. Is anyone buying this?

In 1919, Harry MacElhone published The ABC of Mixing Drinks, and inside he listed a recipe for a drink called a French 75, created by a bartender named “MacGarry” of Buck’s Club in London. The drink was identical to a Tom Collins (gin, lemon, sugar, soda) with one change: the substitution of Champagne for soda water.

Which brings us to the other, strange bit of mythology that you’ve no doubt encountered if you’ve ever been served a French 75 before: I say that MacGarry’s French 75 was identical to a Tom Collins with the exception of that bubbly bit, and I mean it: a French 75 is meant to be served on the rocks, just as a Collins would be. 

Which is far cry from the odd concoction being served without ice in Champagne flutes and being passed around on trays at wedding receptions these days. I never understood that drink, with its odd bit of floating lemon peel, and chances are, neither did you. But one sip of this properly-constructed French 75 and you might begin to see it as the classic bracer it truly is.

French 75

1 oz London dry gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz 2:1 simple syrup, made by slowly heating two parts sugar to one part water in a small saucepan on the stove, until the sugar is dissolved. 
2 oz chilled Champagne

Combine all ingredients but Champagne in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until ingredients are combined and chilled, and add soda water to shaker. Pour over fresh ice in a tall glass and garnish with a lemon peel.   

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