It is with some argument as to what a “real” French 75 cocktail consists. Is it cognac, vodka, or gin? Does it contain lemon juice, orange juice or Gran Marnier? As with many cocktails, time and research does not always make the past any clearer. What does become evident is the taste factor. The question to ask is, “what does my palate tell me about a drink?”
For a taste of some disputable and some indisputable French 75 history: The French 75 is a champagne cocktail originally dreamed up by flying ace Raoul Lufbery. Raoul loved his champagne, but wanted a drink with more intensity to it. Cognac proved to be a natural addition due to its availability at the time. Cognac is also complementary to champagne since they both are derived from grapes. The cocktail packs a punch, thus is named for the noted French World War I Artillery gun, the 75mm howitzer, otherwise known as a French 75. Although its roots began with the French flying ace, its popularity soared in America at the famous Stork Club in New York City owned by Sherman Billingsley.
That being said, what about the contents of the drink itself? The first time I ever had one it was terrific in the first few sips. Quite tasty in fact. After the third and fourth sip, however, it lost its impact. The reason was due to the ice factor. In recipe after recipe found in very reputable data bases the French 75 is mixed and then poured over ice. For my palate this waters this particular cocktail down too much. The ice absolutely needs to be thrown out. Despite the ice factor, two content items became distinctly clear throughout these data bases. The French 75 traditionally calls for cognac and lemon juice.
The other factor in this drink to consider is which cognac to use. Since Courvoisier and Hennessey are two cognacs that are readily available, I chose to compare these two for the French 75. Side by side in the cocktail the Hennessey stood up much better having a deeper, richer color and a much more intense flavoring. The difference using Courvoisier was definitely evident. The coloring was pale and the richness in flavor was lacking. The Hennessey French 75 absolutely had more depth of character, rounding it out to be a much more fulfilling drink.
Next in line was a little tweaking with ratios. Raoul Lufbery loved his champagne, so maybe that is what he wanted to taste the most in his beloved drink. For me, the richness of the cognac needs to shine. With more cognac a little less sweetness is needed. Speaking of the sugar factor; always go with a bar syrup rather than granulated sugar. Granulated sugar is difficult to dissolve. Bar syrup is liquid and ready to mix without the granulated mess.
This of course is my palate. You should absolutely try a taste test with the French 75 at home or order one up at your local bar. Any great bartender will make one to order or better yet, know how to make one already!
French 75 ala the Intoxicologist
1-1/4 ounce Hennessey Cognac
1/2 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
1/2 ounce Bar Syrup (or a tad less)
Brut Extra Dry Champagne
Lemon Twist for Garnish
Combine Hennessey, lemon juice, and bar syrup in a cocktail shaker filled one third full of ice. Shake thoroughly for ten to fifteen seconds. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top off with champagne. Garnish with lemon twist.
Side Note: If using Courvoisier rather than Hennessey up the amount to 1-1/2 ounces of cognac to achieve the balance of flavor.