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Customize Your French 75

The French 75 is like the little black dress of the cocktail world. Timeless. Elegant. Versatile. And customizable! Cocktail historians have traced the drink’s roots back to the early 1900s, but like many drinks we now consider classics, the recipe has shifted considerably through the years, with iterations featuring everything from gin and brandy to tequila and vodka, grenadine, powdered sugar, and Angostura bitters.

“One of the reasons why I am so fascinated by the drink is because you see it take so many different forms, and you’re not necessarily disappointed if it doesn’t meet the original spec, because it can end up being impressive and satisfying when done in a different way,” says Ryan Maybee, co-founder of J. Rieger & Co. distillery in Kansas City. “It really is one of the most versatile cocktails out there. It always seems to sidestep the rigidity of many classics, allowing you to be pleasantly surprised by what you end up with,” he adds.

When it comes to making the French 75 your own, even the tiniest tweaks can help you put your personal stamp on the drink. Here are a few tips to help you get started, but no pressure: If the holidays have put extra strain on your creativity, simply turn to one of these riffs for a more straightforward roadmap to deliciousness.

The Ingredients The first thing to pinpoint is the base spirit, a somewhat divisive topic in the bartending world, says Justin Lavenue of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, Texas. “In the research that we’ve done on this topic, and in the many stories we’ve read, the one that we choose to believe is that the French 75 was originally a take on a Tom Collins—a gin cocktail,” he says. “As far as we’re concerned, the Cognac version is a French 125, the bourbon version is a French 95, the vodka version a French 76 and the St. Germain version a French 77.”

While you could try any of those, if you’re choosing between the two most common options—gin and Cognac—the key is to think about the flavors you prefer in the glass. “The gin version is going to be a lot lighter, and with the Champagne, it’s very refreshing and more sessionable. The Cognac version is more sultry, velvety, and naturally a touch sweeter unless you adjust your sugar levels,” Lavenue adds.

“I’d never heard of anyone using Cognac in a French 75 until Chris Hanna at Arnaud’s in New Orleans,” says Maybee. “Now we’re really good friends, and while I like to argue with him about the origin of the drink having gin, his French 75 is maybe the best I’ve ever had because he uses a great Cognac and actual Champagne, not a cheap sparkling wine from California, which makes a huge difference.”

Good-quality Champagne will certainly elevate the drink, but it’s easy to dress it up or down, such as subbing in more affordable options like cava or processo. A premium Cognac will also add extra depth to the drink. The Roosevelt Room offers two options: the house recipe is an understated mix of Citadelle gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Brut Champagne, while the President’s French 75 features Beefeater’s Reserve, a special edition oak-aged gin, lemon, simple, and Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne. “The President’s version works as a bridge between the gin and Cognac versions as the second batch of Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve was aged in Bordeaux casks, so it’s our ode to the Cognac version as the President’s French 75 is made with true Champagne and a gin aged in French oak barrels,” Lavenue says.

How the Drink Is Served

Up in a Champagne Flute

When presented in a Champagne flute, the French 75 feels especially festive, ready to play at a fancy party or impress the most skeptical of guests. Lavenue says there are practical considerations at play with this style of serve as well. “Without ice, you can enjoy the effervescence of the drink much longer,” he says, because the carbonation will stay intact without interference of cube-shaped icebergs. The other perk is temperature-related. “The French 75 is a Champagne cocktail, so serving it in a chilled flute (as opposed to a coupe, for example) keeps the cocktail colder as the shape of the glass allows for less exposure to the room temperature air.”

Over Ice, Like a Collins

For a more casual vibe, serve a French 75 over ice in a highball glass, like the Tom Collins. This is how they do it at Harry’s Bar in Paris, says Maybee, the place where he was first introduced to the serve, which includes a special twist: a few dashes of absinthe. “I wasn’t watching them make the drink, and I remember this prominent aroma of absinthe in the room. It was very present, crystal clear to me, but I wasn’t processing why at first,” he recalls. “Then the bartender set the drink in front of me, and it was served in a Collins glass, over ice, with a lemon and a straw, and I took a sip and was blown away that there was absinthe in the drink. I had never seen a written recipe anywhere with the drink including absinthe. The bartender said they alway put a few dashes in there. That was an eye-opening experience for me.”

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