The French 75 Cocktail and Battle of Amiens

Your cocktail calendar entry for: August
8
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Greetings, drinkers.  As you know, August 8, 1918 was when the Battle of Amiens began the Hundred Days Offensive that ultimately led to the surrender of Germany and the end of the First World War.  August 8 was a good day for the Allies, and we’re sure they could have used a drink.  So today we’ll mix up the French 75.

There was a lot going on at the time.  Around March 21 the German Army had launched an operation to drive back the Allies along the Western Front, and after signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia they were able to transfer hundreds of thousands of troops to the Western Front.  This gave them a manpower advantage, but it turned out to be temporary.

We won’t go into the details, but by late July the Allies had grown in strength.  Significant numbers of additional American and British soldiers arrived.  The Battle of Amiens itself started at 4:20 AM and included British, French, Australian, Canadian, and American troops.  It was a big day, with the Allies advancing, on average, 11 km into German territory.  That’s big stuff, and was notable for its effect upon the morale of both sides.  One German general described it as “the black day of the German Army.”

It was also one of the first major battles that involved a coordinated, surprise attack by infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft.  We’re going to focus on artillery today because, well, that’ll get us to our Drink of the Day.

Turn back the clock to 1898 and we have the creation of the French 75mm field gun, a quick-firing field artillery weapon.  It was officially known as Materiél de 75mm Mie 1897, but was commonly known as the French 75, the 75 and Soixante-Quinze (that’s the number 75, if like your correspondent your knowledge of French is limited to Chevrolet Coupé).  It’s widely regarded as the first modern artillery piece, and being the first to include a recoil mechanism it didn’t need to be re-aimed each time and could belt out a lot of rounds.  At the opening of WWI the French had about 4,000 of them.  By the end about 12,000 had been produced.  Pretty formidable.

So naturally we turn to a pretty formidable cocktail as Drink of the Day and an appropriate one is immediately at hand:  the French 75.  That’s right, same name as the cannon.  But like so many things related to booze, just what the French 75 is as a cocktail has changed over time and is not without controversy.

Cocktails are often named after current cultural or news items, and knowledge of the 75 as a weapon was ubiquitous.  Hence, over the years between about 1915 and 1930 a variety of versions appeared  in print.  The only thing they all had in common was gin.

As reported by Philip Greene in his book, A Drinkable Feast, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris used Calvados, or apple brandy as the base spirit.  But as we know it now, using gin as a base spirit, the consummate cocktail historian David Wondrich notes that it first appeared in print in 1927, followed by inclusion in Harry Craddock’s 1930 publication The Savoy Cocktail Book.  And that seminal tome spread the recipe everywhere.

As you will see in the recipe, the French 75 cocktail is a mixture of gin, lemon juice and sugar that is then topped with Champagne.  But wait a minute……that’s a Gin Sour topped with Champagne.  And it’s a Tom Collins if you top it with club soda instead of Champagne.  Indeed, drinks morph like the look of Mr. Potato Head as parts are moved around, with tasty substitutions and name changes turning them into yet another cocktail and a new gestalt.

French 75 cocktail

French 75

A variation on a basic sour (spirit, citrus, sweetener), the French 75 can be thought of as a Gin Sour topped with Champagne, just as a TomCollins is a Gin Sour topped with club soda.  This is a drink you can prepare for a group by pre-mixing and chilling the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, then dispensing into Champagne flutes and topping with Champagne as final preparation.
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Equipment

  • Shaker
  • Champagne flute

Ingredients
  

  • oz Gin
  • ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz Simple syrup
  • Champagne to fill
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Instructions
 

  • Place gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into Champagne flute.
  • Garnish with lemon twist
  • Drink.
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