The story is almost too good to be true. The French 75, a potent concoction of gin and Champagne with a dash of sugar and lemon juice for flavor, is created during World War I by legendary French-American fighter pilot and ace Raoul Lufbery. The story goes that Lufbery—the original Wild Fighter Pilot who kept a pet lion cub named Whiskey for a pet— creates the drink because he wants something stronger than French champagne to imbibe after a tough mission.
He says the potent drink has the kick of a rapid-firing French 75mm field gun, and the name sticks.
It’s a great story. How many drinks can claim such an improbably cool origin? Legendary fighter jock creates epic, kick-your-keister cocktail upon his return from The Dawn Patrol. The answer is actually…zero. It’s a myth and never happened.
But we wish it had. That would have been amazing. Even so, the old 75 does have an interesting story to tell…
There is enough vintage verve to be found in the drink’s rich history, there’s really no need to embellish it.
Most mixologist historians agree an early form of the drink was created by barman Harry MacElhone at The American Bar in Paris, circa 1915. This of course is the same bar later re-named Harry’s Bar, the same of later Ernest Hemingway and Lost Generation fame.
So, there is a tie-in with what was once called The Great War and (somewhat more optimistically) The War To End All Wars.
The first mention we’ve seen of the drink is the recipe in the 1922 edition of MacElhone’s book, Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails. At the dawn of The Jazz Age, the French 75 was still just called the 75, and consisted of Calvados, gin, grenadine, and absinthe.
The drink in its modern form was first documented in 1927 in a libation guide titled Here’s How! published by a New York humor magazine. It was still called the 75, but at least the modern recipe of gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and powdered sugar was in place.
The heavy-hitting cocktail was a favorite of expats in the Paris of the 1920s and at The Stork Club in New York in the 20s and 30s. It’s even immortalized in Casablanca.
In the movie it’s the new German Nazi officer BF of Bogey’s ex-girlfriend Yvonne who bellies up to Rick’s Cafe Americain bar and orders a French 75. Proof that the drink belonged to the world by that time—by 1942, even Fascist pigs could order the decadent drink without apology.
At least in Hollywood.
We like Esquire Magazine drinks correspondent Dave Wondrich’s recipe:
1/2 oz Lemon juice
1 tsp Sugar
2 oz London dry gin or cognac
You put the lemon juice and sugar in a shaker and stir to mix them together until combined. Then add the gin of your choice and fill with ice. Then shake, and strain into a Collins glass filled with cracked ice. Fill the rest of the way slowly with your preferred Champagne and voilà: a cocktail for the ages.