French 75 Recipe & the Colorful History behind the Cocktail

Few cocktails manage to provide the panache and pizzazz of the French 75 drink. It’s citrusy, sweet, and refreshing without being overly cloying. It can hang at a casual dinner party or a high-society ball. And with the combination of champagne and gin (or cognac), it’s classy — but not too classy to party.

Today we unpack the history of the cocktail and share a simple French 75 recipe with you.

Table of Contents

The Story of the French 75 Cocktail

Cocktail historians are a tortured lot — few of them ever get to enjoy a definitive answer. The French 75 cocktail is no great outlier in this regard. This mixture of champagne with gin (or cognac), sugar, lemon, and ice has been befuddling such history buffs for years.

The French 75 cocktail is delightful, sweet, sour, and revitalizing, but it guards its secrets closely. However, we can piece together a general picture of when and where it came to be by putting several clues into place.

A great place to start is the first printed mention of the French 75 cocktail. As far as we can tell, that came in 1927 during the roaring heights of Prohibition. A small publication called Here’s How! came out that year, published by a humor magazine in New York, and was aimed with a wink and a nod at bootleggers.

In 1930, the French 75 recipe appeared again in an official Savoy Cocktail Book. This was the spark that set off the wildfire — soon, the cocktail was everywhere. This may make the French 75 the only American cocktail created during Prohibition.

Was It You, Mr. Dickens?

Things get a bit squirrelly thanks to that fine novelist and humorist, Charles Dickens, who visited Boston in 1867. He wrote of parties thrown for other literary giants of the time. One such party took place at the Parker House and was purported to feature “Tom gin and champagne cups,” according to an 1885 article on the hotel.

Seems tangential, right? Well, perhaps, until you consider the fact that “champagne cups” referred to a mixture of champagne, citrus juice, sugar, and ice. Put that together with Tom gin, and you’ve got yourself something similar to a French 75 recipe.

In fact, the high gentry of the day was exceedingly fond of mixing champagne and gin. Even the Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria, was said to have enjoyed the mixture.

Another fan was Kalakaua, then king of Hawaii. The mixture of champagne and gin was even given a name: “King’s Peg.” It was a staple libation for those living in the eastern regions of the expansive British Empire.

So Who Invented It?

Was the cocktail’s inventor a 1920s-era mixologist in hiding, or did it date back to the 1800s? We don’t know. We only know that someone did invent it, and whoever that person was may not have even been the one to bestow it with its name.

The name itself is actually a product of World War I. The name comes from the rapid-firing 75mm artillery gun (a.k.a. The M1897) used by the French military in that war. American soldiers who enjoyed the drink while overseas brought it back home to America after the war.

The French 75 field gun became a symbol of victory as Americans watched footage of the war in newspapers and grainy film reels. So in a sense, the French 75 reigned as more than a cocktail: it was a hero.

Looking for a Simple French 75 Recipe? Here it is.

french 75 recipe

French 75 Cocktail Recipe

This French 75 recipe is distinguished yet easy for anyone to throw together. Its citrus-heavy flavor comes from lemon juice and the grape bite of champagne. Here’s how to make one of your own:

  • Prep Time 5 Minutes
  • Total Time 5 Minutes
  • Serves 1 People
  • Calories 141 kcal

Ingredients

  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of granulated sugar
  • 2 oz. Cognac or London dry gin
  • Chilled champagne

Instructions

  1. Start by getting the glass ready: chill a champagne flute glass and fill it with cracked ice.
  2. Next, squeeze or pour your lemon juice into a shaker and add the sugar, stirring them together to combine. Add the 2 oz. of gin or cognac and fill the shaker with ice. Shake the mix together and strain into the champagne flute.
  3. Finally, fill the remainder of the champagne flute with — you guessed it — champagne. À Votre santé!
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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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