Said to be as strong as a World War I-era field gun, there are two versions of the classic cocktail known as a French 75. Cognac was the original spirit when it was created in the 1920s, but today, many people make it with gin. The first time I tasted a French 75 was in New Orleans and they made it with Cognac and pink champagne. I fell in love on the spot.
For years, I made the refreshing lemony libation for brunch and afternoon get-togethers, unaware that many bartenders these days make French 75s with gin.
So recently I decided to stage a couple of French 75 taste tests. I made both the gin version and the Cognac version and, in both cases, the Cognac ended up winning.
The gin was preferred for the first sip but the Cognac version had lasting power and my tasters preferred sipping the Cognac French 75 over the long haul. If you prefer the gin version, you can substitute gin for the Cognac in my party-friendly pitcher recipe below.
Regardless of the spirit, it is a very elegant and festive champagne cocktail that is easy for everyone to make—even the unexperienced bartender. I like making the base recipe of Cognac, lemon juice and simple syrup and pouring it in a pitcher so it takes all the work out of making the cocktail.
You pour the base liquid into the bottom of a champagne flute, add a lemon curl and top it with your favourite champagne. You can also make the base of the cocktail up to three days in advance and refrigerate it in a lidded jar.
When throwing a party, wine or beer is often the preferred libation because making individual cocktails can be a full-time job, and then the host/bartender can’t enjoy his or her own party. But a fun cocktail turns a gathering for 2 or 200 into a celebration.
I love pitcher cocktails because you can make them in advance and the “bartender” becomes a “guest” in a matter of minutes. And, in fact, your guests can even pour their own drinks if you give them a bit of instruction, like one part base to two parts champagne.
FRENCH 75 NEW ORLEANS STYLE
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 cup Hennessy Cognac
1/2 cup simple syrup (see below)
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Rose or Brut Champagne
Lemon twists for garnish
Stir together 1 cup Cognac, 1/2 cup simple syrup, and 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice in a medium pitcher until well mixed.
Pour about 2 shots or 2 tablespoons of the Cognac base into Champagne flutes or coupe glasses.
Top with chilled Champagne (Prosecco or other sparkling wine works in a pinch).
Garnish with a lemon twist — you can make a lemon twist by carefully peeling the skin off a lemon with a sharp potato peeler.
1 cup superfine white sugar or granulated white sugar
1 cup bottled water
Bring sugar and water to a low boil and stir until dissolved. Cool and use for sweetening drinks. Store simple syrup in a closed jar or squirt bottle.
Nutrition information per serving: 98 calories; 0 calories from fat; 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 1 mg sodium; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 0 g protein.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”