Vive le Soixante Quinze
Champagne, gin and a French classic
A very informal survey of Oklahoma City metro bartenders indicates that the French 75 is as popular as you think it is. The Champagne and gin cocktail, a variation on a Tom Collins, currently seems to be everywhere. In some bars around town, especially those that serve classic cocktails, it comes in second in sales behind the esteemed Old Fashioned.
Per Jeff Cole, the director of operations for Prairie Wolf Spirits and a veteran bartender himself, the fact that it’s a variation on a Tom Collins is worth discussing. “The original was served in a Collins glass over ice, and Champagne took the place of the soda,” he says. “That’s still a good way to serve it.”
Before moving on, please remember that the only thing a flute does for a drink is make it easier to spill. Just as sparkling wine should be drunk from a white wine glass, a French 75 belongs in a Collins glass. Served over ice, it’s a delicious, unassuming, simple cocktail, and the lemon peel garnish doesn’t have to float awkwardly in the glass like a piece of flotsam.
Putting aside the argument about glassware, there are two issues that really affect the way a French 75 tastes: the style and quality of the gin and the sparkling wine.
“I like to stick with wines made with the Champagne method,” Cole says. “That means Cava works well, but dry Prosecco is fine, too.”
Rick Patino is the general manager at The Winston in Norman, and his bar will be serving a classic variation on the French 75 for Valentine’s Day dinner: a Cognac 75, which is the same build with Cognac subbed for gin. Patino said his main concern with the French 75 he makes is that the body or mouthfeel is right.
“You don’t want it to be too dry, but a cocktail made with simple syrup doesn’t need added sugar,” Patino says. “We tend toward off-dry or demi sec sparkling wines, like Elysee, and we never use Pet-Nats.” (That’s short for “petillant naturel,” an alternative method of sparkling wine production that leaves no residual sugar in the wine.)
Patino said his best advice is not to overcomplicate what should be almost a no-brainer drink. “It’s like sparkly lemonade, so you don’t need to go for depth of flavor or complexity,” he says. “That’s not the point of a French 75 or a mojito or margarita. Also, we never want to bastardize good ingredients to make a cocktail that’s inferior to the ingredients.”
In other words, keep the price of the bubbles and the gin fairly low. Good dry gin like Broker’s or Monopolowa works great, and so do Champagne alternatives. Domestic bubbles like Gruet are made in the Champagne method and cost at or below $20 a bottle. It’s a very simple cocktail to make at home, too. Cole provided a basic recipe:
1 oz Prairie Wolf Gin
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2.5 oz sparkling wine
Pour over rocks in a Collins glass.