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The Crimson Hour: Ready, Aim, Pour the French 77

Sweet gin and bubbly with overtones of a French meadow. It's either the perfect escape from the Phillies nightmare season or the perfect pair for a Mother's Day brunch.

The only acceptable mascot companion to the Phanatic--non-apocalypse division--is his mother.
The only acceptable mascot companion to the Phanatic--non-apocalypse division--is his mother.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

Welcome to Mothers' Day weekend! For real this time! It is the weekend of pink bat, pink gloves, pink cleats, pink hair, pink noses, pink eyes—everything pink!

Pink Catcher

And I bet you expect that I will match the décor with a pink cocktail. But, no. As any good interior designer will tell you, colors should be mixed and matched, not blanketed. Moreover, I just do not care to choose cocktails for color. After all, both strawberries and red bell peppers are red. Only one of them should be in a cocktail. So, this week's cocktail will not be inspired by the color pink but, what is more essential to this Sunday, my mother. For the Frenches 75 and 77 are her favorite cocktails.

(By the way, did you know that just before the baby boom post World War II, pink was the standard color for boys and baby blue for girls? Good thing we sorted out the true natural colors for each gender. Our society was on the verge of crumbling before that.)

I list the French 75 and the French 77 together because the 77 is a delightful play off the 75, and my mother first discovered the 77 and has since worked her way back to the 75 because, among other reasons, my parents do not keep elderflower liqueur—the crucial improvisation in the 77—on their bar. Where did she discover it you ask? Why, it was the passed cocktail at my wedding immediately following the ceremony. It was the perfect refreshment to aerate midsummer Maryland and the right amount of alcohol to percolate the celebration.

The French-titled cocktails are a mixture of spirit, citrus, sugar, and champagne. Today the standard French 75—the one you will get if you order it at a bar or restaurant—uses gin as the spirit and lemon juice as the citrus. The 76 uses vodka, lemon, and grenadine for extra sugar, which blech. And the 77 uses gin, lemon, and elderflower liqueur rather than sugar. When they are served chilled, the boozy bubbly concoction expands late spring and summer afternoons. They tickle the tongue to leaven one's mood and reveal the best strolling pace for savoring warmth and beloved company.

Like so many classic cocktails, the French 75 traces its baptized history to New York City. A NYC humor magazine was the first to publish the recipe with the name. So, those damn metropolitans claim some ownership over this wonderful libation. Fortunately, the Metropolitans are in town this weekend. Let's hope the Phillies can not only spoil their burgeoning lead in the NL East, but also take back the 75 for all right-thinking, blue collar citizens who still believe in 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, and 8 hours of rest.

Unlike most classic cocktails, this first publication occurred during prohibition. Perhaps its illicit origins explain the reference in its name. For a French 75 is not only a cocktail but also a French quick-firing canon featured heavily as an anti-personnel weapon in World War I.

French 75 Gun

I imagine that, like so many canons, the bathtub gin used in the cocktail caused many-a shrapnel injury.

But this official history is probably false and certainly less fun than other apocryphal stories. Apparently, Charles Dickens reported drinking a gin and champagne cup cocktail in Boston in the mid-19th century (a champagne cup has champagne, sugar, and citrus in it). Yet further proof that Wall Street has attempted to confiscate the pleasures of Main Street. And, more fancifully, some attribute the cocktail to Gervais Raoul Lufbery, a famed World War I flying ace who flew for both France and the US. No better elixir for having to dodge the Red Baron.

That brief history covers the 75 but for this weekend's cocktail I'll be providing the recipe for a 77 because the elderflower flavor adds a floral note to the drink that seems especially appropriate for this weekend. Here's that recipe.

Tools: Shaker, Strainer, Champagne Flute, Juicer, Paring Knife

Ingredients: Gin, Elderflower Liqueur, Lemon, Champagne

  1. Place Flute in freezer.
  2. Slice Lemon Twist.
  3. Juice Lemon. Measure ½ oz.
  4. Fill Shaker with ice.
  5. Pour 1.5 oz Gin, 1 oz Elderflower Liqueur, ½ oz strained Lemon juice into Shaker.
  6. Shake until frigid.
  7. Remove Flute from freezer. Garnish with Lemon Twist
  8. Strain Shaker contents into Flute.
  9. Top off with Champagne. Stir gently if you wish. Enjoy!

The best gins to use for this cocktail are ones steeped with many botanicals. I've recommended it before and it applies here again: the Botanist is a good choice. I've also used Wigle Gin from Pittsburgh and it was fabulous.

If you are wondering what elderflower liqueur to purchase, there is one dominant brand: St. Germain, made from flower petals gathered from the countryside around Dijon. It is a bit expensive but also lasts 6-months after opening and a little goes a long way often.

If you are wondering how to reverse engineer the 75, just substitute ½ oz of simple syrup for the 1 oz of elderflower liqueur.

And if you are not a fan of sour citrus you can cut back the lemon juice to ¼ oz.

And now a toast:

Here's to Mothers, the ones who told us to attack fastballs in, the ones who told us to go for those extra bases, the ones who offered milkshakes to bolster nerves worn thin, and the ones who wiped the grime off our dirt-dog faces.

And special cheers to my mother for, among many other things, giving me the bulk if not entirety of my athletic talent, which allowed me to enjoy playing baseball as long as I did.