If you're into thinkin' and drinkin'

Episode 2: The Big Guns – French 75

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I think this episode is a great example of what we mean when we say “…history through cocktails”.  It would be easy to think that every cocktail origin story is precise and worthy of storytime.  As it turns out, we’re pretty excited when we discover a cocktail that is directly and causally correlated to a particular event.  Most cocktails might be created in honor of a person or thing, but just as often cocktails get their names from common expressions, icons or ideas.  When there isn’t a story to go with the drink, we instead look at the people, places and things related to the name or even the time and place the cocktail was first mixed.  If there isn’t a great story as to how it came about, we instead look the environment in which it was born.

The French 75 is one of those cocktails that doesn’t have a great origin story.  Given the circumstances of where it was created and who were its biggest fans, it’s easy to imagine how the name came about.  In 1922 Robert Vermeire of the Embassy Club listed this drink in his cocktail book as well as a spot on origin story (Vermeire is a great resource for origin stories we’ve discovered).  This drink was first popular at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris with former US World War I soldiers named for the French field artillery cannon they became so familiar with during the war.  There’s nothing about the cocktail specifically that aligns it with a gun yet we can understand how former soldiers might name a drink after anything from their wartime experience.  So we get it; it makes sense.  There just isn’t a whole lot to say about the drink in this regard.  However, it is also interesting to note that Patrick Gavin Duffy included the French 75 in his cocktail book immediately when Prohibition lifted in the U.S.  It clearly made a name for itself across the pond while the U.S. remained dry.

What we do instead is talk about the French 75MM cannon itself to understand why it made such an impact in the lives of those who thought it deserved a cocktail named after it…and we learn a little about our cultural heritage in the process.  Simply put the French 75 cannon was the first field gun with a recoiling mechanism that allowed the gun to remain stationary after firing.  This improved both the speed and accuracy of artillery weapons in the field of battle and was another piece of the story how warfare changed in the First World War.  The patrons of Harry’s Bar had an intimate relationship with the weapon and by naming one of their favorite drinks after it, they reclaimed the weapon that took so many of their lives as their own.

These are the ingredients that go into the classic French 75.

  •  2 oz gin
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp simple syrup
  • champagne

This is a damned good drink.  We all liked this.  Now, it is a sweet drink without a boozy presence, but don’t let that fool you; there is a lot of alcohol in this and it comes on strong. Listen to the episode to hear us all get a little tipsy on this one (it doesn’t usually happen) as well as our views on mustard gas and meat paste.

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Transition music: Cephalopod by Kevin MacLeod
Closing Music: The Caissons Go Rolling Along by US Army Chorus

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