Besides being a truly classic cocktail, the French 75 is also one of those drinks that you serve when there is cause for celebration: new baby, new house, engagement, New Year’s Eve. It makes everything feel more festive. It’s also the perfect apertif to serve at a party or to begin a fun-filled night in the city. As with most cocktails, its history is somewhat unclear. It’s widely thought to have made its first appearance in print in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, but a liquor.com article written by David Wondrich traces it back to 1927 when it could be found in a little book that was circulating through the bootlegging community called Here’s How. Many accounts have it being created in 1926 by Harry MacElrone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, but MacElrone himself is said to dispute this, claiming instead that the drink’s conceptual birthplace was Magarry of Buck’s Club in London. Things become even more muddled when we learn that Charles Dickens is said to have served cups of “Old Tom gin and champagne” to guests who visited him at the Parker House in Boston, and the Prince of Wales had a penchant for a similar drink called the Kings Peg, also in the 1800s. It seems likely then that the idea of a French 75 was around for quite some time before it was given a moniker that would have the staying power to last. Regardless of who actually named the cocktail, everyone seems to be in agreement on two things. The first is that it was named after the Howitzer 75, a field gun used by both the French and the Americans during World War I that was said to have a quick a kick, a fact that suited this blend of gin (or cognac) and champagne perfectly. Secondly, we can be certain that its appearance in the Savoy Cocktail Book is what catapulted it to popularity here in the United States, since it landed on the menu at the New York’s infamous Stork Club shortly thereafter, and eventually garnered an appearance in the movie Casablanca in 1943.
Although the traditional French 75 contains gin or cognac as its base, simple syrup and lemon juice. all topped with champagne, I decided to go right to a variation for today’s cocktail. As I’ve mentioned I’ve recently begun working at Cooper River Distillers right here in nearby Camden. One of Cooper River’s bestselling products is a spiced rum called Driftwood Dreams that’s absolutely fabulous in a cocktail like a Dark and Stormy. It begins life as Petty’s Island white rum, which already has so much personality, flavor, and tequila-like funkiness that it will cause you to do a double take. From there it rests for 3 weeks on applewood chips that give it a distinct smokiness before it’s infused with vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, coffee beans, and allspice, with just a bit of molasses being added at the end for color and flavor. My thought for the the French 75 riff was to take it in a more exotic, tropical direction. Using the Driftwood Dreams spiced rum as my base, I then added Velvet Falernum, a liqueur that I’ve often described at the adult version of those gummy spice drops we ate as kids. It pairs naturally well with rum, and has enough sweetness to substitute in for the simple syrup in this cocktail. I swapped out the lemon juice for lime, added some tiki bitters, and kept the champagne top, of course, yielding a version that still has the celebratory feel, but with a bit more of a summertime vibe. When you taste it, the bubbles get you first, followed by the rich flavors of the rum and the falernum before the lime comes in on the finish. I was rather happy with the end result! If you’re local to New Jersey, Cooper River Distillers’ products are widely available, and the Driftwood Dreams rum is a must for this cocktail and for all your summer drinks.
Shake all the ingredients over ice except the champagne. Strain into a flute and top with the champagne. Garnish with a lime peel. Enjoy!