With the upcoming French 75 contest at The Esquire, it seems a good time to explore that drink’s history, which is hinted at by the question a bartender who knows her stuff will ask you when you order one: “Cognac or gin?”
The origin of the drink is unclear and disputed. One story suggests that it was created in World War I by French infantrymen. According to this particular story, French officers were allotted an unlimited quantity of Champagne, while the infantry’s share was rationed. To stretch their stock, it is said that the infantrymen would drink Cognac — of which they were allotted an unlimited quantity — with a float of Champagne before going “over the top” to attack the enemy. The drink was said to pack a wallop similar to the French 75mm tank gun used in that war. Hence the name for the cocktail. In French, it is called the “Soixante Quinze,” or seventy-five. (Aside: I’ve always loved the way the French say 75. Soixante-quinze literally translates to sixty-fifteen.)
According to Wikipedia, the drink “was created in 1915 at the Paris landmark, Harry’s New York Bar by barman Harry MacElhone,” and “popularized in America at the Stork Club.”
The WikiTender claims the first published recipe for the French 75 appeared in 1927, with variations appearing in 1930 and 1934.
Whatever its origin, and whichever way you prefer to drink it, the version that is popular today contains gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Champagne, usually served in a flute with a lemon peel garnish. When made with Cognac, the lemon and sugar are sometimes omitted.