Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
The first order of business is this week’s drink, the French 75. Like many of the cocktails we have tried there is some dispute as to its origin. The best information points to Paris and a drink named after an artillery weapon because of its hard hitting conclusion and that is the one I like the best. Clearly dating to at least the early part of the 20th century, the French 75 is named after a 75mm howitzer and is a mix of spirit, sweet, citrus, and sparkling wine. There is some disagreement, or at least a difference in taste, about whether it should be made with gin or cognac. Here is the recipe that I decided to use:
1.5 ounce Cognac
.5 ounce simple syrup
.5 ounce fresh lemon juice
Sparkling wine (I used Cava this time)
The idea of proposing a sparkling wine based drink is that we are in that holiday period of drinks that are part of gatherings and celebrations. This drink fills that role wonderfully. Not as basic as a simple pour of bubbly, the French 75 adds a complexity through the cognac and along with that a kick. It may be a factor of suggestion, but the drinks with effervescence always seem to cry out for sipping lest they hit with the quick power of the aforementioned artillery piece.
A secondary purpose of suggesting this drink was to introduce the concept of toasts. The subject would take far more than a simple blog post to explore, but as with the drink, tis the season for such things and there are some basics worth exploring.
Toasts are definitely cultural, and any discussion should include the customs and etiquette that accompany them. Certain countries, think Ireland, are famous for toasts of all types while others, Russia in this case, are cited for a toast before each drink. It can be considered bad taste to toast with water, to not drink after toasting, or to miss out on touching glasses with each person toasting. One of my favorite tidbits is that toasting may have started with mistrust and the partial sharing of drinks to be sure that none of the drinks were poisoned. In fact, it is said that the touching of glasses, the clinking that has become spoken in many cultures, is a sign of trust the drink need not be shared to ensure the absence of poison. The best part of almost every cultural tradition of toasting is the recognition that the sharing of drinks is the sharing of company. That is something I always consider, even if David and I share virtually, as I try each week’s drink.
Almost everyone has a favorite toast even if they do not know the origin. I have always liked the simple “a votre sante” which is most basically translated as “to your health”. Similarly many offer “salud” or “health” to say the same thing, which is the common wish that your fellow drinker experience good health or good fortune. Na Zdrovie is another well-known example of wishing “to your health” although most associate it with incorrectly with Russian toasts (it does not actually translate that way) instead of the Polish Na zdrowie where it actually is a wish for health.
My favorite toast has always been “here’s mud in your eye” although, and probably because, I have no idea what that really means. There are biblical explanations (Jesus rubbing clay in the blind man’s eyes to restore his health/sight), historic (soldiers in muddy trenches), and agricultural (used by farmers for no good darn reason that I have heard). The best explanation, or at least the one I like the best, is that it originates from horse racing. The idea is that the lead horse has clear racing and those that follow have the mud of the race course flying in their eyes as they trail. An alternate, but similar, explanation is that it was a way of saying “so long” before downing the drink and taking off on horse with mud flying back at the other drinkers. No matter what the explanation – here’s mud in your eye!
Here’s David’s Review:
Though I’d never describe myself as a “foodie,” I’ve eaten in enough fancy restaurants to know that simplicity and sophistication often arrive together. A good chef makes salad, asparagus, mashed potatoes and seared scallops so delicious, you may feel as if you’ve never really consumed them before.
I feel that way about the French 75, which, with just four ingredients, offers a bright, refreshing, and novel cocktail. Though the lemon juice makes this drink somewhat reminiscent of a gimlet or even a daiquiri, the cognac gives it more warmth and depth, and the sparkling wine (we used prosecco) gives it a light, celebratory lift.
It seems the perfect accompaniment to hor d’oeuvres and conversation, sweeter than white wine and yet tart enough not to be cloying. After last week’s dense, eggy, homestyle cocktail, this one seemed especially buoyant, more nectar than batter. Using no spices or bitters, the French 75 is direct and natural, the perfect answer to all the heavy food and buttery, cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y, clove-y flavors proliferating this time of year.
Online, like Jonathan, I found recipes that called for gin rather than cognac, but, to me, gin would only scuttle the drink. Introducing botanical and bitter elements would certainly make its flavor profile more complex, but simplicity seems the soul of this cocktail’s appeal.
As Jonathan says, this drink gets its name from a French field gun because it’s supposed to possess a similar kick, but I’m not sure it has much in common with artillery. Quite the contrary, the drink went down very easily. We had it Christmas afternoon just before the meal and regretted that we only had enough lemons for each of us to have one, as the French 75 seems something you could drink a lot of.
While my experience with champagne tells me having many might be a bad idea, you may find your judgment slipping if you like this drink as much as I did.
On the matter of toasts, I received a book devoted to the topic in my stocking, a suitable accompaniment to this week’s drink. Among the information offered is a list of toasts by nationality. My favorites, strictly by pronunciation (because I have no idea of meaning) are: Gan Bei (Gan BAY: Chinese), Hulu pau (Hoo-lee pow: Hawaiian), Heko (hee-ko: Swahilii), and Vô (Voh: Vietnamese). Please don’t ask me any more—they just sound cool.
Jonathan’s Take: The classics, and French 75 is certainly one, never seem to disappoint. Consider adding it to your New Years traditions.
David’s Take: Here’s one I’ll remember and repeat for celebrations ahead.
Next Week (proposed by David):
My proposals haven’t always been so successful, so I’ve decided to embrace being the bold and quirky cocktailian brother. I’m sending Jonathan to the liquor store for Aquavit (a Scandinavian caraway flavored spirit) to create a drink named after Rosalind Russell, the actress most famous for His Girl Friday and the movie version of Auntie Mame. She also married a Danish-American, which may be where she developed a taste for Aquavit, a rather odd ingredient. I hope everyone is up for a challenge—who knows what to expect, besides fun, fun.