In this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy returns to break down the classic French 75 cocktail — a beloved Champagne cocktail that incorporates fresh citrus and either gin or Cognac. He is joined by NYC bartender and Cognac expert Ms. Franky Marshall.
For Marshall, a recipe for the French 75 is simply a blueprint. How does this artillery-inspired cocktail incorporate a base of spirit with Champagne? What are some of the many ways to build a French 75? And is this drink better suited for a coupe or flute? Learn the answers to these questions and more in this episode of “Cocktail College.”
Ms. Franky Marshall’s Classic French 75 Recipe
- ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- 1 ounce of gin or Cognac
- 1 ½ – 2 ounces sparkling wine (ideally Champagne)
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add lemon juice, simple syrup, and base spirit to a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Lightly shake until chilled.
- Fine-strain into a chilled coupe glass.
- Top with sparkling wine.
- Express lemon twist over the cocktail from at least 6-8 inches above the glass and discard.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: Welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” I’m your host, Tim McKirdy, and today we are joined by Ms. Franky Marshall. Franky, welcome to the show.
Franky Marshall: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
T: Thank you so much for joining us, I’m excited to get into our drink today. It’s one that I think is notable for many different reasons. And I believe it’s the first we have covered so far that’s a two-for-one when it comes to base spirits. I’m excited to get into that. Of course, we’re talking about the French 75. How do you feel?
F: I feel great. You’ve got to love a twofer, first of all.
F: So that’s exciting. Let’s talk about it.
T: Yeah, let’s get into it. First question: What makes the French 75 a special cocktail, in your opinion?
F: There’s quite a few things. It’s actually not that simple. First of all, anything that has Champagne is always festive, and it’s a desirable drink for anybody. That, in and of itself, distinguishes this cocktail. And it’s just really approachable. If people are just getting into cocktails, it’s a very easy one to begin with. And it’s open to a lot of interpretation as well. Somebody pointed out that it’s a Tom Collins with Champagne. That hurts to think of it that way. Because it’s much more than that. But I do think it is a special cocktail.
T: I think that’s a great point as well. This is a drink where you could look at the components and say, “Well, it’s a pretty simple drink.” But the idea of this show is treating this like a bonafide cocktail, which it is. I’m excited to explore it that way rather than, like you said, Tom Collins, which is a cocktail, but maybe not on the same level as the French 75.
F: Exactly. And just that name, French 75, what does that mean? It’s got “French” in it. People love everything that’s French.
T: That’s a great point for us to jump off up there: the name and the history. Can you talk us through where that name comes from and the background of this drink? Is it one of those cocktails that we know a great deal about regarding history? Or is it one of those other ones that’s kind of more shrouded in mystery, but it’s historic? Tell us about the beginnings of this drink.
F: It’s always hard when you’re researching cocktails, because there’s information here, there’s information there, and some of it’s conflicting. I always default to the “historical oracle,” Mr. David Wondrich. There are other people who have definitely contributed to the history of cocktails. But if I want the shortest route from A to B, I go right to Wondrich. So I’ll be honest with you, a lot of the information that I say comes from his work. I’m not even going to pretend that it’s coming from elsewhere, although it has. I have done some research on this drink. The name comes from a rapid-fire field gun; a cannon. Apparently, this one was so precise because you didn’t need to move it. You could actually shoot at one target for many, many rounds, causing the most destruction possible. So that’s exciting, isn’t it? The drink was named after that.
T: I wanted to let you bring that one up. I nearly mentioned that at the beginning of the show. How do you mention that this is a cocktail that’s named after a, well, piece of weaponry? It’s kind of a weird one, but it’s an iconic name, even if you don’t know the meaning behind it. French 75: It’s a cool name.
F: That’s right. And the “75” refers to Paris. That number actually represents Paris, as well on license plates.
T: Wow, that’s a nice tie there.
F: Yeah, exactly. It’s named after this cannon that the Americans used to use in World War I, but it was developed around 1897. With the cocktail itself, apparently, Charles Dickens was making cocktails with Tom gin and Champagne in 1867. It was a precedent for this cocktail being made, not exactly as it is today, but it was the beginning of it. The fact that the Americans call this cocktail the French 75 after this gun that they were using comes from around that time frame. But it gained notoriety in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” which came out in 1930. That was a different construction than we see now. It was built on an ice-filled glass with gin and topped with Champagne. So that sounded like a pretty big drink. Now, we see it mostly made in a flute, which we’ll get to. Some people tie it back to Harry’s Bar in Paris, but I’m not sure if that’s really true.
T: That’s a reference I’ve seen out there a lot as well. We’re talking about that period, aren’t we? We’re talking about the post-World War I, early 1920s and 1930s period, when this cocktail really started to become known and named.
F: Yeah, exactly. It served pre-Prohibition in Europe and survives it. That’s how it seems to me.
T: Fantastic. Folks over here in the U.S. will know, if they’ve visited New Orleans, that this cocktail has strong ties to that city. Can you talk to us about that? This is something I have no idea about. I’ve definitely had French 75s when I’ve been to the city, but don’t know the tie-in there. Is there anything you can explain to us about that?
F: I don’t actually know the exact tie-in with New Orleans, aside from the fact that we did have a lot of bartenders who were European bartenders and went there to work and there was crossover. And of course, Arnaud’s Restaurant calls their bar the French 75 Bar. I should have asked Chris Hannah about this question. He was the leader of that bar for many, many years. Now he’s at Jewel of the South. But to be honest with you, I’m not exactly sure of that.
T: There are many French ties to that city and cocktails, like you mentioned. If I can move on as well to the two base spirits that we mentioned at the beginning there because, of course, this is a cocktail that’s most often made with gin, but is also classically made with Cognac. Can you tell us about those? Where I’m going with that is that the Cognac ties to New Orleans. That might spark something in my mind, too. Can you tell us about the fact that this drink does have those two base spirits? Do we have any idea which one came first? What makes that special or different?
F: The first time I had it, it was with gin. Before we get into the gin versus Cognac debate, in 1867, Charles Dickens mentioned the Champagne and gin tie-in. But also you have to think that the French had Champagne and Cognac prior to that. I’m sure that they put that combination together, and this is something that’s been speculated on by others, too. It wasn’t named, but I’m sure that that combination came up. If you were in Paris during the World War I era or even in the ’20s, you were probably drinking Cognac and Champagne, separately and together rather than gin and Champagne. That’s why I’m thinking that people were probably doing both, but in different areas. But who knows? That’s the one thing that’s so frustrating and exciting about cocktail history. It’s not like now, where everything is so documented. So we can’t really pinpoint who did what and when. But like I said, it’s highly likely that people were doing things concurrently in different cities, on different continents. Who really knows for sure? So I’m just going to go ahead and say it was Cognac.
T: Wonderful. Another great tie-in to New Orleans there, classic cocktails with conflicting stories on whether it should be a Cognac cocktail or another base spirit. On other episodes, we’ve had the Sazerac, where that debate comes in, too. Maybe that’s another tie right there. In today’s landscape, which would you say is the more recognized or more popular version of the drink? Would you say it’s gin? Or would you say it’s Cognac? How do both versions of the drink differ in terms of their profile?
F: Well, I think it depends on where you are. Certainly, I’m a little biased because I used to run a bar where I had the Cognac 75 all year round. I’ve seen them a lot more with Cognac in the New York area for sure. I don’t think this is widely the case across the country. So I’m going to have to give it to gin for popularity. But keeping the Cognac 75 on the menu all year round was a little bit surprising for people, I think. The way I dealt with that or handled that was by changing up the style of Cognac that I used. It’s the same with gin. I always use this analogy: You’re not going to use the same gin that you would for a French 75 or a Tom Collins or a Martini. You’re going to choose a particular style of gin. It’s the same with Cognac. You’re going to choose a particular Cognac that matches not only the cocktail, but also the season. That’s what I did. In the summertime, I would use something like a lighter V.S. that had more floral notes and more white flowers and a lighter body. As we transitioned into fall and winter, I would use a Cognac with a more robust flavor profile. So that’s one way to deal with that.
Breaking Down The French 75
T: Before we dove into these ingredients one by one, what are you looking for when someone hands you that French 75? What are you looking for from a perfectly executed version of the drink — whether it’s a gin or a Cognac base?
F: I would like it to be a full-flavored cocktail. What I see a lot of people doing is over-shaking. With cocktails that are going to be lengthened with something like Champagne or anything else, you don’t need to shake it that hard. Because you’re diluting it, and then you’re diluting over your dilution. I don’t want an overly diluted drink, I want to be able to taste the components. I want to be able to taste the Cognac or the gin and, of course, the Champagne. Or whatever else, like sparkling wine. I want it to be integrated from the first sip. You see this a lot where people will make a cocktail, and they pour whatever on top and then hand it to you. And the first sip you’re getting is whatever has been poured on top. You’re not getting a fully integrated cocktail, and that’s a pet peeve of mine. Give it that lift, put that spoon in there, don’t interrupt the bubbles too much. But give it that one lift so that the first taste is going to be a fully integrated cocktail.
T: I think that’s such a great point. I’ve had French 75s in the past that were very enjoyable because, let’s look at the ingredients, it had Champagne, base spirits, something to make it sweet, some citrus. How can you go wrong with that? But it just tasted like Champagne that had been seasoned with something and had a bit of extra booze, rather than this one integrated drink. It is not a bad experience, but it’s not a great experience. It’s not the experience that the French 75 can and should be.
F: Exactly. It’s not something that you might want to go back to. That’s why I think a lot of people are just like, “French 75? Whatever.” Because it’s probably been over-shaken, and the sparkler has been an afterthought, and all of that. After this episode, we are going to redeem the reputation of the French 75. That is my goal by doing this. Redemption, Mr. McKirdy, redemption.
T: I want that, too. We’re going to discuss Champagne, but if you see a drink lengthened with wine, maybe you’re just like, “Yeah, it’s a half-cocktail.” The wine’s almost not part of the drink, and you don’t treat it as seriously as you might something that’s served stirred or up. I think that’s crazy because this is a wonderful drink. This is not something that’s boring. You shouldn’t try it and move on. This is a fantastic cocktail. So let’s start with the gin consideration, just because it’s the clear spirit. No preference here at all. What are you looking for? Cognac, like you said, has many styles. But gin has even more so these days with the proliferation of different gins. What are you looking for? What style of gin works well in this cocktail?
F: Well, this cocktail lends itself to a few different styles. Definitely London Dry, of course. But you can also integrate a lot of these “new American styles” of gin that are less juniper-forward and have other botanicals at the forefront. So many gins are really high-ABV these days, but it doesn’t have to be anything in the mid- to high-40s ABV. Because again, we’re incorporating a sparkling wine, which is going to have a lower ABV. You don’t need to go overboard on that. I’m going to jump ahead, but it’s about matching with your sparkler. That’s a big consideration as well.
T: You mentioned gins these days that have a lot of newer botanicals, are lighter, more floral, fruity, or even different styles. There’s a few bottles out there, not too many, but a few that really dial in to juniper. In my mind, I wonder whether I want the gin to be too juniper-y. Of course, it has to have that characteristic. But that might be clashing with the sparkling wine. Is that just my flavor preference there, or is that something you maybe agree with, too?
F: That’s completely possible. It can also be enhanced by the sparkling wine, depending on which one you choose. It just really depends. Should we just jump right into talking about sparkling right now?
T: Let’s do that. Before we do that, or maybe that’s the answer, which one are you thinking about first? Are you thinking about the sparkling or are you thinking about the base spirit if you create this from scratch?
F: Let’s say we’re already in a bar that’s stocked, then you have to be practical. What sparklers do I have? Realistically, we wish we could change every component for every cocktail, but we can’t do that. Just work with what you have. Not everyone can afford to put actual Champagne into cocktails, depending on where you work. So you have to be practical and creative in that way. That said, I tend to think about the base spirit first.
T: Do you want to jump into Champagne or sparkling wine now, before we do Cognac?
F: Let’s just do Cognac. I just keep teasing it.
T: Yeah, getting ready for the bubbles. That’s good. On the edge of our seats here. Talk us through the different styles of Cognac. You mentioned seasons before. How might that affect what you’re pouring?
F: Just quickly, you have V.S., which is aged for a minimum of two years in oak. And you have a V.S.O.P., which is aged for a minimum of four years. Those are probably as far as I’d go age-wise in a French 75. I wouldn’t go to an X.O., which ages for a minimum of 10 years. Mostly because that’s a lot of oak influence, and not all of them have that at present. But there’s also a cost factor. I don’t think that there’s a need to put those into your cocktail. There are those spectacular bars out there that do have their aged spirits in cocktails, and guests are more than happy to pay for them. And that’s fine, too. But let’s keep it to our everyday application. I’d probably stay with the V.S. in the warmer months. But again, even within the V.S. age group, there’s a great variety. Depending on where the Cognac is coming from, the house style, that kind of thing. There are ones that have more of an unctuousness than others. When I first started working in a cocktail bar, we only had one expression. There was only one brand and one expression that we used all year round. The last time I was running a bar, it had at least nine or 10 different Cognacs on the back bar, along with the rotating well. It was a French-themed bar, so it had to have selection. It was a must. There’s some great V.S.s that you can get which actually take you all year round. You just have to find them. You can use V.S.O.P.s if you want a little bit more body and a little bit more oak influence, maybe a little bit more ginger and cinnamon notes. That’s what I’m saying about this cocktail, you can get creative. There’s the moving parts, there’s the gin versus Cognac. There’s a style of gin versus the styles of Cognac. Then we’re going to get into the sparkling. As far as the sweeteners, you can generally use a one-to-one simple syrup. If it’s the warmer months, why not get into a darker sugar syrup? You could use a Demerara, you could use coconut sugar syrup. You can play around. The lemon juice is fairly straightforward, as long as your lemon juice is fresh. I’m sure a lot of people have had those French 75s with three-day-old lemon juice, which definitely didn’t help the cause. But when lemon juice or citrus is that fresh, it is really, really tart.
T: It’s tight as well, right? You can taste that.
F: Yeah, so that’s something to consider, too. That can be great, but I personally like to let my juice sit for a little bit, just to have it calm down. So that’s just another thing to consider.
Any Sparkling Wine Will Do
T: Well, we’ve reached the pinnacle here. I’ve got a drum roll going on in the background; sparkling wine, Champagne.
F: Let’s pop this cork, shall we?
T: Tell us about it. Tell us everything.
F: It’s something that’s taken for granted. Again, I understand that sometimes it’s just a practical decision. You only have the one type of sparkling that you use for all the cocktails, and it’s usually some kind of Prosecco, which can be fine. We have so many options these days. It can be something like a Champagne that can be expensive, quite frankly. But there are certain Champagnes that are more affordable, but the quality is not alway there. I love Cava as an alternative. It’s from Spain and made like a Champagne. Usually, the aging is a minimum of nine months, where Champagne is 15 to 18 months. So you are getting more body and that yeasty character. A lot of Cava can be very savory, and they’re really food friendly, and they have the body. So Cavas are great, and they’re very affordable.
T: I love Cava, by the way, just as a side note. I do love those wines, and I do think there’s some wonderful value to be found there. If you’re taking a break from cocktails and you’re looking for wine, I’m a big fan.
F: Definitely, I totally agree. There are a bunch of styles, there’s Cava de Paraje, which is made from older vines. And those vines are aged for a minimum of 36 months. I don’t know why people just don’t speak in years, that’s three years. So it’s another level of cover as well. Then you have things that are of another great value, like crémant, from different cities. Those are sparklers that tend to have a little bit less carbonation; they’re less forceful. But these are made in this traditional method. And they are another great and affordable option. Then, you have things like pét-nat, which are really trending right now. Those are made with this fermentation in the bottle, not going through the secondary fermentation like Champagne or Cava does. Pét-nats can be great, and a lot are made in that biodynamic or organic way. They’re unfiltered; they don’t have any sugar added to them. So for the people who want to wave the natural wine flag, that’s a great option. Pét-nats will be made in that natural style, so it’s a completely different flavor that you’d have to match your base spirit with.
T: There’s probably more variation to this sparkling component of the drink than any other component that we’ve spoken about before. There’s more options there. For your ultimate version of the drink, I’m assuming you’re going for Champagne. Excuse me for assuming, is that correct?
F: I’m going for the right Champagne.
T: That was going to be my follow-up. I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page there. Therefore, what style of Champagne are you looking for? When you’re making this drink, what are you looking for? Are you looking for something with more body? Are you looking for something that’s more citrus and fresher and lighter? Or are you looking for more time on lees? Are you looking for an oxidative style that maybe gets some of those sherry notes? Where do you go when it comes to Champagne?
F: Let’s say hell has frozen over, and I’m about to make this gin French 75. Just kidding. I love gin; it was one of my first loves. So yes, I’m making this with gin. I’m going to look for a lighter, fresher style of Champagne. I don’t like to get into brands, but there are definitely ones that maybe are based off of Chardonnay. That could lend more to this fresher profile, and of course, the actual presence of bubbles is hugely important. That’s not to be downplayed, either. Just the persistence of the mousse. Something that’s for the gin, something that’s lighter and fresher. For a cocktail, I like a brut style. If I’m drinking Champagne, I like even drier than brut — I could go zero brut or extra brut. Unless you’re going to adjust your specs, and we haven’t spoken about the specs yet, a brut Champagne works.
T: It’s more rounded in that sense. It’s more “plug and play.”
F: Exactly. You do have to take more care, and you do have to adjust if you’re using something dry.
T: When I’m drinking those on my own, I’m usually looking for some kind of food with them. Maybe that’s just my palate. But I do see why that would require more care. How about for Cognac?
F: It depends on the flavor profile you want to achieve. You could use a lighter style of Cognac and then go with a lighter style of Champagne. If I’m sticking with Champagne, maybe I’m going to go for something based on Pinot Meunier or Pinot Noir — something with a little more red fruit to contrast this Cognac. But also something with a little bit more body to match the weight of the Cognac as well. I could also bring in a good Cava here for the Cognac. That could work very well, depending on the Cognac, because of that savoriness. If we’re using Champagne, I just use something with a little more yeasty, breadiness to it; a little bit more body. Still staying with a brut Champagne.
T: Sounds wonderful. That’s where I tend to go when I’m drinking Champagne as well, by the way. In case anyone’s listening and wants to send me Champagne, that’s my preference. Are there any other points that you would like to add about ingredients before we do speak about the specs here?
F: If you have the luxury to, play around. I didn’t even get to mention other sparkling options. There’s Franciacorta, there’s a lot depending on your budget. And again, it depends on the bar. Sometimes, bars have budgets. Or again, if you don’t have the budget, there are some excellently priced Proseccos. There are some really wonderful, drier-style Proseccos out there that can work. If you really want to throw a twist in the thing, throw in some Lambrusco. Now we’re getting crazy.
T: I’m not sure what this drink is now, but I want to try it.
F: All I’m saying is to experiment.
Franky Marshall’s Take on the French 75
T: Wonderful. When you’re making a gin-based French 75, what would your preferred specs be?
F: It’s actually the same for the gin and the Cognac. I will qualify this by saying that, depending on your base spirit and on everything else, you can modify it. You should be open to modification, but half-half-one. So, half lemon juice, half of the simple syrup, and 1 ounce of the base spirit, and then a light shake. Don’t over-shake it, fine strain it. I like about an ounce and a half to 2 ounces of sparkling wine to top it off. Not more.
T: And poured, eyeballed, into the glass.
F: Eyeballed? It can be difficult. What I would do is test one and measure it, and see where the lines are. And you can go from there, because it’s really hard to jigger something sparkling. That mousse raises up and then it goes down and then you’re like, “Where am I?” But for God’s sake, always under-pour that sparkling. You can always add more. But once you’ve overpowered, the drink is done. You only get that one chance, right? You can’t redeem yourself, especially if you’re making that drink for somebody for the first time. It’s really important, because that might be that defining moment for them. They might go, “Oh my God, I knew I hated this drink.” Or they might go “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I love this drink, and I’m coming back to see you again and again, you wonderful bartender, you.”
T: Do you prefer the flute then? That’s the modern norm when it comes to serving this drink. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on glassware and building. You did mention it earlier there with the spoon, so talk us through those two points.
F: For the build, I would start with the sugar or simple syrup, then the lemon, then my base spirit. Put that into the tin with ice, give it a gentle shake, and finely strain it. I personally like this cocktail in a small coupe because I like the way it looks. If I’m drinking it, I would put it in a wine glass the way that industry people drink Champagne a lot these days. However, I realize that when you go out to a bar, you don’t want a French 75 in a wine glass. It’s got to be celebratory; it’s got to look the part. So a flute is fine, and that’s what most people would probably serve it in. But I’ve always served mine in a coupe.
T: I’m so with you there, and I am so with you in terms of that as the glassware rather than the flute. I think that’s where some folks might not see it as this bonafide cocktail. Because it’s a Champagne flute, right? Like, what is that? What is this upgraded Mimosa? You don’t take it as seriously when it’s in a flute, but if it’s in a coupe, it just looks wonderful. It makes so much more sense and feels like a more celebratory occasion, like you said, when you drink that French 75 out of the classic coupe.
F: Absolutely. I totally agree. There are so many kinds of all-purpose coupes that look wonderful, but you don’t have to spend that much money on them. I always kind of refer back to the practicalities of things because I know it’s a reality. If the flute has been abused, I blame all those bottomless boozy brunches.
T: Yes, exactly. And it’s more likely to have coupes in your bar’s chiller to keep them cold before serving drinks, then you will have flutes. Depending on the bar, chances are this is not a drink you might serve too many of. It really depends on where you are and what your bar’s focus is. But keeping flutes in the fridge or freezer might seem kind of precarious. Let’s just call it now, let’s go with the coupe, not the flute.
F: Exactly. If you can’t stack flutes, you’re going to knock them over in the fridge. For the garnish, I do like a properly expressed lemon twist. It is the standard garnish, it tends to look nice on a rim. But again, don’t express it from too close a range. I like to hold it up six to eight inches above the glass. What tends to happen is, if it’s too close, you get too much lemon, so all you’re drinking is this kind of lemon thing. It’s this lemony Champagne thing. You’ve got to be very, very careful with that.
T: Are you throwing it in there or are you leaving it out after? Are you just expressing and discarding ?
F: These days, it’s an expression and discard. I used to leave it on the side of the glass because it looked nice, almost like this pigtail. It can look nice, but it can get in the way, especially if people want to drop it into their drink. I tend to save people from themselves and just just take it away these days. Just take it away.
T: That’s my thinking, too. This French 75 that I’ve been building in my mind throughout the course of this episode is really coming together right now.
F: Good, I’m glad to hear that.
T: Looking at it, it’s in a coupe and there’s no twist in there. The twist has been discarded by now.
F: Right, right. I will say, it’s amazing how many people think a drink isn’t finished unless it has some kind of garnish on it. People are feasting with their eyes and they want something on that cocktail.
T: Just to make sure that you are finished with it at the bar before it arrives at their table. Like, everything’s in here, right?
F: Yeah, exactly. But I’m not talking about those people who actually reach across the bar and try to pull the drink away before you actually finish it. Those people don’t care about the garnish.
T: Oh my God, you mean the worst people in the world?
F: Yeah, exactly.
T: So any final thoughts on the French 75 before we move into the final segment of today’s episode?
F: I would just say, just don’t take this drink for granted. Revisit it, play around with it, and have your way with it. That’s about it. It really is a delightful cocktail. In all honesty, often when I see it on menus, I’ll order it because I really enjoy drinking these.
T: If it’s on a menu, you know that the person cares about it, because they’ve made the effort to put it on the menu. This isn’t one that is demanding a space on every single cocktail menu around the country. So if someone’s put it on there, this is something they’re taking care of.
F: You have a lot of faith, Tim McKirdy. I don’t know if I’d say that. I don’t know if I agree with that, because lord knows that there’s a lot of reasons people put cocktails on a menu. That is the hope, and that is the goal. So I’ll just leave it at that.
Getting To Know Franky Marshall
T: Amazing. Wonderful. Franky, it’s time to move into the recurring feature of “Cocktail College,” where we get to know a little bit more about our guests by answering our stock questions. So are you ready?
F: I think so. I’m not usually good with these rapid fire things.
T: Take as much time as you need. Question No. 1: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
F: This is a difficult one, because it depends on what kind of bar it is. I used to run a French-themed bar. So I bought all kinds of French spirits, wines, and liquids that I could get my hands on. I have a lot of whiskey. I do love whiskey, too, and there’s so many world whiskeys from all across the globe. I did find whiskey taking up a lot of space, to be honest with you. But again, if I were moving into a bar now, there’d be a lot more sakė and shochu. There’s just so much right now, and I know I’m not giving you a great answer. I’m one of these people that I just want everything. But I guess I would say a lot of whiskey, and also because people ask for it. There are hundreds and hundreds of gins, people love gin, but they don’t generally sit there and go, “Oh, let’s see that gin selection.” Whereas with whiskey, people will actually ask for the selection. They revel in it and, let’s be honest, purchase it. And that’s the goal when you’re running a bar. Well, one of the goals. Sales!
T: Question No. 2: Which ingredient or tool do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
F: Again, a tough one. I started using tongs quite a few years ago to pick up ice and garnishes and even to use one in each hand to garnish like Spanish bartenders when they’re making a proper Gin & Tonic. And you just look cool if you can really handle your tongs well. But if you can handle your tongs, it’s a great skill. Also a scale, and I honestly don’t own a scale, but it’s on my list of things to get because it’s so important for proper measurements. I’m one of those old-school eyeballers. Like, that’s about enough. A scale is a great thing. As far as an ingredient, I’d say grapefruit liqueur. I pick up grapefruit liqueur so often; it goes in so many cocktails. You can really create and build around it. It’s a great modifier with any spirit. And it’s pink and pretty.
T: There you go. What’s not to love? I was going to say, it’s a flavor that people love as well. Put grapefruit in there as a component of a cocktail, people will see that, and they instantly gravitate towards it.
F: Not everyone thinks, “Oh my God, I’m going to eat a grapefruit today.” But once you sweeten it up, it’s just such a beautiful flavor. It just goes with so many things. And again, the color and everything. I love grapefruits, I tend to like things that are more bitter rather than sweet, but it’s bitter and sweet.
T: Awesome. Question No. 3. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in this industry?
F: Aside from my own mantras that I tell myself, I got one very, very important piece of advice from Gary Regan. Which was that recipes are just guidelines. It seems like a basic thing now, or maybe an obvious thing, but he told me this years ago. It was just eye-opening and so true. I learned that the hard way. Before I became a more confident cocktail bartender, I would follow recipes. I made this one big mistake once. I was making this big batch and I followed the recipe instead of tasting, I just kind of made it. It turned out horribly, and I said, “What happened? What happened?” I followed the recipe. That was before he said that to me. When he said that to me, I thought back to that moment. And I thought back to all those other times when I would just follow the recipe rather than following my own instincts or making variations and adjustments. That’s so important. You do need to get to a point where you can actually trust your own palate and you know what balance tastes like, or you know what you want something to taste like. That’s very important, too. It’s one thing to make adjustments, but if you’re going in different directions and it doesn’t end up being better than the original recipe, then that’s a whole other thing. But definitely just look at recipes, it’s a guideline. That’s why I often hesitate when people ask me, “How do you make this?” When I make my own drinks, sometimes, they can be very fluid. It’s hard for me to write down an exact recipe sometimes, because it really depends on how the product tastes that day or what brand I’m using. There are so many variations. To that point, when someone does come up with a universal recipe, a classic that people can make over and over again, and it comes out so well that they keep making it, that is a great achievement as well.
T: Look how many times that’s come up in today’s episode, which is just like, “It depends.” It really depends. If you will allow me to say, somewhat of the genesis for this show from when I used to work as a chef, the whole idea was you’d learn how to make recipes. But the recipe is a set of guidelines, and it’s not the bible that you have to follow. Because like you said, produce changes, ingredients can be different, if you sub in one ingredient for another, it can be so different. I couldn’t agree more with you there.
F: Yes, yes. And just taste, taste, taste. I remember seeing this one chef Kathy Casey, when she would taste everything around her. It was so important. She just kept shoving things into her mouth, and I was thinking, “Is she hungry?” She’s tasting so she knows what she’s working with, and I learned that, too. Those are such important lessons, especially for newer bartenders coming up, but also for seasoned people who do things by rote.
T: Excellent advice there. Question No. 4: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
F: First of all, Tim, this question is morbid. I don’t want to be thinking about the end of life, OK?
T: The question is loosely phrased enough. You could visit that bar every day for the rest of your life, but that’s the only one you’re going to have.
F: Well, I hate absolutes. The one bar that I particularly loved over the years — it’s not a famous cocktail bar — but it happens to be in Paris. I hate to be so predictable, but it’s called La Closerie des Lilas. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that place. It’s on Boulevard Montparnasse, and it dates back to the late 19th century. It’s one of those places that started as a café that was frequented by writers, poets, and artists. I came across it on one of my trips to Paris when I was younger. It’s typical, gorgeous, dimly lit. The lighting is all gold, the walls are ox blood red. It’s got this beautiful small bar. There’s a piano player and antique glassware. You really feel that palpable sense of history when you sit in this place. The times that I’ve gone there, all the people around were characters that I just wanted to know a lot more about. So it’s a place where you just sit and revel in your cocktail. At the time, people were smoking, so it was all so atmospheric. That’s one place that I’ve always been able to escape in. I like bars where I can escape. I don’t want to be reminded of reality. I want to be taken out of my reality when I go into a bar, which is why I’m not a person who goes to a lot of dive bars, unless it’s this type of dive bar. I don’t need to drink that badly. You know what I mean?
T: I love your description there, because I felt transported myself. It sounds like a wonderful place.
F: It really is. Look it up some time and better go if you’re in Paris. It’s not necessarily about the cocktails. It might be a good place for a French 75, or just a glass of Champagne. But it’s about that atmosphere. I’ll throw in as a runner-up Black Angel’s Bar in Prague. I don’t know if you’ve been to that bar. Many bars in Prague are underground, and it’s one of those underground places that they redid. It’s got different rooms and it’s a beautiful place.
T: Fantastic. Ambiance. Final question here, and you’ll have to forgive me for this one as well, because it’s slightly morbid, too. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
F: You’re going to have to change that question. But it would be an ice cold, wet gin Martini with a twist and an olive. You might as well like back me up on it, since it’s going to be my last. Just give me three or four, just line them up.
T: Absolutely, I love it. I love doubles. I love the twist and the olive. I’m indecisive, so I’ll often do both.
F: Why should you have to decide? I love gin, and I love having a little snack as well. You need that kind of balance of that saltiness. You don’t need it; I’m saying it’s a wonderful thing to have. Again, with the lemon not expressed too close. Please do it from up high, or better still, give it to me. I’ll express it myself if I want to. I love a great Martini.
T: You’re in company. Well, Franky, thank you so much. It’s been wonderful. This is definitely the first episode we’ve spent discussing a drink named after a large-scale artillery weapon.
F: It’s a killer drink, though.
T: There we go.
F: There we go. Thank you. It’s been a joy. I just get carried away listening to your very, very gentle accent there. I love it.
T: Thank you very much, and thank you very much for your time today. I’m going to go and take out all of the flutes from my freezer and replace them with coupes.
F: Smash them, darling. Smash them on the ground, and put those coupes in there and stack them.
T: Wonderful. Thank you very much.
F: Thank you.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shoutout to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.