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Cocktail Culture: An Italian Twist on the French 75

Posted on | March 25, 2015 | Written by Julia Punj | No Comments

cocktail2The French 75 is one of the iconic cocktails created by the great, Harry MacElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Harry is credited with creating scores of cocktails as well as some of the first cocktail recipe books. The French 75, named after the 75mm field gun used by the French army, has a few incarnations, and variations on the French 75 can include cognac, sloe gin, or St. Germain. The original recipe, written down in “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails,” calls for gin, lemon, a little simple, served in a Highball glass over ice. The Savoy Cocktail book claims a recipe of gin, powdered sugar, and lemon juice, tall over ice. In today’s bar scene, however, you would be hard pressed to find a gin-based French 75 in anything other than a champagne flute.

I think the French 75 combines the best of spirits drinking into one glass: floral and botanical notes from the gin, a healthy dose of acidity from the lemon, and the beautiful sparkling mousse from the champagne. Taking the French 75 to Italy is an easy jump. As in any cocktail, the ingredients are key, and they don’t need to be traditional. Finding the elements of the cocktail and creating a balance is the linchpin to a successful variation. I like to play with Prosecco, Limoncello, a hefty grappa, and even amortized wines such as Cocchi Americano—Italian sprits and liquors that lend themselves to the bright, acidic, and citrus flavors of lemon and gin.

It’s important to remember that the base of the cocktail is the mixing of the spirit and the citrus; therefore, playing with the balance and the strength of the two is the way to find your ideal French 75. Also, don’t forget the sweeting element—a French 75 should always have a bit of simple syrup, sugar, or sweet liquor to create a even keel between the acid and the spirit. This can be a straight simple syrup, a flavored syrup, powdered sugar, agave or even a sweet liquor. My favorite Italian variation of the French 75 uses gin, Limoncello, lemon juice and Prosecco. The viscous, boozy Limoncello adds a zesty punch and a bit of weight to the original cocktail, and it eliminates the need for added sugar. For a lighter more refreshing twist, try replacing the sweeting agent with Cocchi Americano. This will decrease sweetness while imparting more complex finish.

The effervescent and elegant element of the 75 is the sparkling wine. Arguably the only true “French” aspect of the cocktail, champagne helped a basic cocktail become a refined and inspirational drink. These days you can choose your bubbles from across the world—Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy, sparkling wine from Australia or the Americas. Each will impart the exciting sparkle required, but each will also give an extra flavor profile to the drink. My preference is to stay dry, a nice brut champagne is usually a go-to choice, but Prosecco is a more cost effective and, sometimes, a more flavorful substitute.

Building the French 75 is important. As in all cocktails, start with the least expensive ingredient first; in a shaker start with the sweeting element (unless you’re using the Limoncello, option, in which case add it later) add the citrus juice and spirit (gin, cognac, vodka). Shake vigorously, strain and pour in the glass. Gently pour the bubbly on top, careful not to fizz or over fill. Take your garnish, a twist of your citrus is the best choice, and rub it around the rim before placing it on top of the bubbly. You can build your 75 in a champagne flute, coupe, or highball glass. Don’t try to pre-batch this cocktail because you will lose the bubbles.

Here are a few of my favorite recipe variations:

The French 75

3/4oz Lemon juice

¼ oz Simple Syrup

1 oz London Dry Gin

Brute Champagne

Shake lemon, simple, and gin Champagne flute with a twist

Long Italian 75

3/4oz Limoncello

1 oz Vodka

½ oz Lemon Juice

Prosecco

Shake limoncello with vodka, and lemon juice, pour into a tall glass over ice, add a twist

Sloe Gin 75

3/4oz Lemon juice

1 tsp Powdered sugar

1.5 oz Hayman’s Sloe Gin

Cava

Mix the powdered sugar with the lemon, shake with the sloe gin and pour into your glass of choice. Layer with the Cava.

If you loved this Italian twist on a classic drink, don’t miss Julia’s post on Negroni.

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