With a bubbly twist on the Tom Collins cocktail, the French 75 proves to be an especially popular drink. First developed in Paris, made famous by the Savoy Hotel in London, and given an American renaissance by bartenders in New Orleans, the French 75 consists of a gin base, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a Champagne topper. Dry gins with citrus notes and fresh, light profiles blend beautifully with this libation’s other ingredients, making it ideal for refreshing spring and summertime toasts.
What are the best gins for French 75 cocktails? We consulted expert bartenders to recommend the best bottles.
A German gin distilled in the “London dry” style, Monkey 47 Schwarzwald incorporates both a traditional London dry gin flavor blend (dominated by juniper berries) and tastes that reference the gin’s Black Forest heritage, like lingonberries. Bar manager Kristy R. Cook of Central Kitchen + Bar in Detroit enjoys Monkey 47 Schwarzwald in her French 75s because “it’s a classic dry gin with floral complexities paired with notes of soft water of the Black Forest. It’s utterly smooth and complex!”
Holland’s Damrak Gin completely nails the lightweight texture and bright flavors ideal for a French 75 gin, according to lead bartender Ryan Andrews of Prohibition Liquor Bar in San Diego. “My favorite gins to use for a French 75 are of the floral and fruitier variety, as the lighter notes of these styles don’t overpower Champagne. Otherwise, you might as well use soda and call it a Tom Collins. [One] of my go-to favorites is the Dutch Damrak Gin,” Andrews told us.
Gin’s natural herbaceousness lends itself well to additional flavor infusions, and the Scottish-made Hendrick’s Gin adds notes of cucumber and rose, resulting in a well-balanced and cocktail-friendly spirit. Several of our surveyed bartenders mentioned Hendrick’s as a French 75 favorite, but some, like head bartender Lu Brow of The Roost Bar at Brennan’s in New Orleans, gave a pointed shout-out to Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice, a special-edition version with a particularly floral nose: “My favorite gin to use for a French 75 currently is Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice. The aromatics are beautiful and it gives the drink a soft and silky mouthfeel. It’s really food-friendly and lovely for brunch.”
If you’re generally more drawn to brown liquors than to clear spirits, then you’ll appreciate the impressive compromise achieved by Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin, which head mixologist Colleen Nealon of Porta in Philadelphia considers the perfect gin for a French 75. “The French 75 is one of my favorite holiday party cocktails. It is a light and refreshing cocktail with a touch of bubbles to remind yourself you are celebrating. Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin works really well in this classic. The gin is made in Hardwick, Vermont using local honey and then aged in bourbon barrels for up to six months, giving it a unique flavor with hints of clove, citrus, and some baking spices. It’s perfect for the holiday season,” Nealon explained.
An English-distilled prestige gin perhaps best known for its distinctive blue bottle, Bombay Sapphire gets Chicago bartender and Causing A Stir founder Alexis Brown’s vote for the best French 75 gin. “My favorite gin to use in a French 75 is Bombay Sapphire. I really enjoy the subtle citrus notes and spice, highlighted by the botanicals that complement the other ingredients in a French 75 and add a lovely character to the cocktail. Some other gins can get lost [in a French 75], but I feel that Bombay Sapphire marries nicely with the other flavors,” Brown insisted.
The French 75 enjoys a close association with the impressive beverage tradition of New Orleans, so it stands to reason that a gin distilled in the area would be a perfect fit for this cocktail. Bar chef Amanda Thomas of SoBou in NOLA opts for Gentilly Gin when crafting a French 75, telling us that “when it comes to the gin [I use] in my French 75, I lean towards something with high citrus notes. Gentilly Gin, made locally in New Orleans, is perfect for this. The bright persimmon and elderflower notes really elevate the cocktail and transport you to fall in NOLA. ”
It’s hard to think of a more quintessential example of London dry gin than Beefeater, a London-made spirit distilled with a process dating back to the late 19th century. Former head bartender Wilmer Nolasco of Ivy Lane in New York City (now closed) thinks that Beefeater suits a French 75 better than any other gin because “it’s the benchmark for London dry gin. The juniper is upfront while retaining freshness and pungency.”
Some liquor consumers cast a suspicious eye at distilleries owned or sponsored by celebrities. However, plenty of these libations can hold their own against prestigious competitors, and one prime example, Aviation Gin (owned by Ryan Reynolds), is a stellar addition to a French 75. At least, that’s what beverage manager Shawn Powell of City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill in West Palm Beach, Florida, said: “[Aviation’s] undertones of juniper and lemon allow for a perfect balance to the cocktail. The botanical notes (cardamom, coriander, French lavender, anise seed, sarsaparilla, and juniper) complement each other beautifully and provide the imbiber with a truly satisfying sip.”
When making a French 75, owner/creative director Naren Young of Dante in NYC (the World’s Best Bar in 2019) veers away from traditional gin and instead goes for genever, a gin-related spirit partially made from malt wine. “We don’t have a French 75 on our list, but when I drink them at home, I use genever instead of gin. Genever is actually the historic precursor to gin: It was the first ‘recreational’ spirit based on juniper. As it originated in the 1500s, the base spirit was grain, and it was pot distilled — long before NGA and column distillation came about with the Industrial Revolution. These days, there are genevers that are based on 100% grain, which can overpower the delicate notes of a French 75. [However,] there are also ‘jonge’ (or ‘young’) [styles of] genever, which can have as little as 1.5% malt spirit. One that I particularly like is Bobby’s, which is Indonesian-influenced and [therefore] has notes of ginger and lemongrass. It makes a delicious French 75!” Young advised.
Like Barr Hill Tom Cat, Bluecoat Barrel-Finished Gin of Philadelphia benefits from an aging process conducted in American oak barrels. “When building a French 75, I like to use Barrel Finished Bluecoat from Philadelphia Distilling. The subtle vanilla notes combined with sharp juniper and citrus peel are perfect when shaken with fresh lemon juice and bar spoon or two of Demerara simple syrup. Topped with some sparkling wine and a lemon twist, the French 75 [with Bluecoat Barrel-Finished] is a classic that hits like a cannon,” beverage director Brenton Sollenberger of Plough and The Exchange in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said of his preferred French 75 base spirit.
Here’s a great gin out of coastal Italy. The spirit is made from 21 Mediterranean botanicals and is tremendously balanced and character driven. Pros love the harmony of flavors as well as the great-looking bottle, which ought to sit proudly on any bar setup or cart. Floral and a tad spicy, you can detect the rose hip, iris, and marjoram inclusions.
The gin and bubbly conversation doesn’t have to stop here. Check out our features on the genesis of the French 75 cocktail and some of the best sparkling wines according to sommeliers. Here’s to a great cocktail assembly in the near future.
Editor’s Note: All the aforementioned bartenders may or may not still be with the establishments now, but were at the time of the first publication.
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