“Champagne for our real friends and real pains for our sham friends.”
- A toast from Harry’s Bar in Paris circa 1920
This Valentine’s Day, make sure your pre or post-romantic dinner drink is the classic champagne cocktail. The French 75 is the grand dame of champagne cocktails and has been the basis for dozens of delicious variations. Basically, it is a sour (spirit, lemon, simple syrup) plus Champagne, which was most likely inspired by a Collins or Fizz recipes.
The original French 75 was created by the legendary bar man Harry MacElhone at the New York Bar in Paris during the midst of the Great War. The "French 75" was actually a massive 75mm shell used on the front, that fired across no man’s land from noon until night. It was reknown for its "deadly precision" and clearly, this cocktail packs some power to earn that moniker. MacElhone later took over Harry’s Bar in post-war Paris which became an institution during the Lost Generation-era, where he had boulevardiers the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and their ilk drinking French 75s.
French 75 (circa 1915)
1.50 oz gin
0.75 oz simple syrup
0.5 oz fresh lemon
3 oz of Champagne
Tools: Mixing tins, jigger, pairing knife, Champagne flute
Method: Combine simple, lemon, and gin into mixing tines. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into ice-cold flute and add Champagne (none is specified but we like a demi-sec). Add orange or lemon peel garnish.
T he Fraise Sauvage, one of my favorite variations of the French 75, features all the winners of a heart-winning cocktail. Champagne - Check! Strawberry - Check! Sweet, sour, red, and bubbly, this cocktail is ideal for Valentine’s Day,
The Fraise Sauvage (or wild strawberry in la lingua franca) was created at the New York cocktail institution Employees Only (EO). I first encountered it several years ago when I innocently asked one night what was EO’s best selling cocktail. Igor Hadzismajlovic, one of EO’s venerable owners, winked and brought over the ingredients for the Fraise Sauvage. He described it as a gateway cocktail for gin-haters, a no-fail conversation starter, and a drink simple enough to execute in a high-volume cocktail environment. The rich, nearly-maroon color and strawberry garnish stand out on the distinctive zinc bar of EO. Since that night, I have routinely used some variation of the Fraise Sauvage, experimenting with seasonal fruit, and different liquors on many curated menus. Igor was right -- it is a best seller every time!
EO’s recipe calls for Plymouth gin (46% ABV), a simple and versatile gin that is unique to the Plymouth region in southwestern England. Plymouth-style gin boasts only seven ingredients and botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica, orris, and cardamom. Less is more and the quality shines through. Since Plymouth gin has a softer more rounded edge than a London Dry gin, this results in dialing down the juniper flavor to let other flavors come to the surface in the French 75 and Fraise Sauvage cocktails. Gateway indeed!
Demi-Sec or medium dry Champagne is slightly sweeter than the typical brut or dry sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Typically, this wine is aged up to three years and then cane sugar is dissolved into the wine from the same cuvée (tank or vat). The original Fraise Sauvage recipe calls from Mumms Joyesse Demi-Sec Champagne which was first produced in 1888. Some prominent flavors in Joyesse are fruits such pears, peaches, with a citrus finish.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup are standard French 75 ingredients. What makes the Fraise Sauvage worthy of its name is the wild strawberry puree. The recipe (see below) calls for wild French strawberries (or very ripe regular strawberries), Tahitian vanilla bean, and lemon zest. This, combined with the simple syrup and lemon, makes a very well-balanced cocktail that is not overly-sweet or sour.
Adapted by Employees Only
1.25 oz Plymouth gin
0.5 oz fresh lemon
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.5 oz of Wild Strawberry puree (recipe below)
2 oz of Mumm Joyesse Demi-Sec champagne
Tools: Mixing tins, jigger, rocks glass, julep spoon straw
Method: Pour ingredients except champagne into a mixing tin. Add ice, cover, and shake until well chilled. Pour champagne into frosted cocktail coupe and pour the mix over it. Garnish with half a strawberry.
EO’s Wild Strawberry Puree Recipe
4 lbs of fresh ripe strawberries, hulled
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of water
Grated zest of half a lemon
1 vanilla bean, scored and scraped
Method: Place ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil, stirring, then decrease the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out lemon zest and vanilla bean, then pour it into a container. Refrigerate, it should last one week. (Source: Speakeasy – Classic Cocktail Reimagined, From New York’s Employees Only Bar (2010) – by Jason Kosmas & Dushan Zaric)
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City