Cocktail recipe: A French 75 for everyone

This classic cocktail can be adapted for those who are drinking, want something lighter, or who are fully abstaining from alcohol.

A no-ABV, low-ABV and classic French 75. Jenny Huang/The New York Times
A no-ABV, low-ABV and classic French 75. Jenny Huang/The New York Times

A drink doesn’t have to be booze-forward or make you tipsy after just one, to be cocktail-hour appropriate.

At even the smallest gatherings, it’s common for one or more guests to be abstaining, or to simply want to drink less that night, month or year. And, in those cases, what’s important is not the reason for guests’ abstention but their comfort and inclusion. With that in mind, a versatile drinking option that works at different alcohol contents (low, none or full) can be unifying, as it lets everyone confidently raise a glass.

“A good host is prepared,” said Julia Bainbridge, the author of “Good Drinks,” a book of alcohol-free drink recipes, and a newsletter of the same name. “Even if you do know that all your friends coming over a drink, it’s still nice to have a nonalcoholic option. They might have a drink and then switch to the nonalcoholic one.”

Jessica Baesler, an owner of Someday, a bar in Portland, Oregon, said including nonalcoholic options on the menu, “the same way you would offer the two reds on the list, makes people feel taken care of and thought of.”

Just as some abstain from alcohol entirely, others may just want a less-potent drink. For them, low-proof spirits and liqueurs take centre stage, providing enough spirited kick to usher the drink into the cocktail territory, while keeping it light in impact.

While you could make something unique for each person, serving drinks with similar flavour profiles plays to the home bartender’s advantage. A simple way of doing this is to make a nonalcoholic base and build similar-enough drinks across a range of alcohol contents. Start, for example, with a shrub.

Shrubs are often called drinking vinegars for their vinegar base, but, in the early 18th century, shrubs were lemon-based, the juice mixed with sugar, then combined with brandy or rum. Because fresh citrus was expensive to import and difficult to attain, vinegar became a ready replacement, eventually surpassing the citrus-based antecedent to fashion the tangy, sweetly concentrated fruit (and, nowadays, vegetable) syrups we know today. While the vinegar base is the more commonly known shrub, the citrus-based iteration provides a brightly tart, deeply flavorful base layer that is tops for drinks across the spectrum of ABV, or alcohol by volume.

Prepare the shrub the morning of or night before, then consider your options. A no-ABV French 75 can be sweetly sour and decidedly adult when made with sweet bay-peppercorn shrub, lemon, soda water and dry tonic. An acidic, bubbly low-ABV French 75 combines blanc vermouth, shrub, lemon and Champagne. A classic French 75, full-proof and fizzy, can be made with cognac or gin. Each has a distinctive vibe, but many ingredients overlap, including that richly flavoured citrus shrub (which can be served, too, on its own with a splash of soda water or tonic).

Choose two or all three, and offer them as equal-opportunity, equal-attention options — a veritable choose-your-own-adventure for the happy hour set.

Recipe: Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub

Total time: 15 minutes, plus at least 6 hours’ resting

Yield: 2 cups

  • 5 medium lemons, peeled and fruit reserved
  • 1 small grapefruit, peeled and fruit reserved
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves

1. Place the citrus peels in a medium bowl or a large jar. Add the sugar, peppercorns, salt, thyme, cloves and bay leaves.

2. Use a muddler or the end of a rolling pin to muddle the mixture together, working the sugar mixture into the peels until the peels begin to express their oils and start to turn slightly translucent. Set aside at room temperature for at least 6 hours or overnight. Much of the sugar should be dissolved, and the citrus peels will be mostly translucent.

3. Juice the reserved lemons and grapefruit. (You should have about 1¼ cups juice.) Add the juice to the mixture and stir (or cover and shake the jar) until the sugar and salt dissolve. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids and transfer to an airtight container. The shrub can be stored, in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month.

Recipe: No-ABV French 75

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ice

  • 1 ounce Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (optional; see Tip)
  • 2 ounces soda water
  • 1 ounce dry tonic water
  • Lemon twist

1. In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, combine the Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub, lemon juice and bitters, if using. Cover and shake until well chilled. Strain into a Nick and Nora or coupe glass, and top with soda water and tonic. Finish with the lemon twist.

Tips: Most bitters have a small amount of alcohol and, while very diluted, make sure whomever you’re making a drink for is OK with this addition, or skip entirely.

Recipe: Low-A.B.V. French 75

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ice (optional)

  • 1 ounce blanc vermouth, such as Dolan or Noilly Prat
  • 1 ounce Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3 to 4 ounces Champagne or dry sparkling wine
  • Lemon twist

1. In an ice-filled shaker, combine the vermouth, shrub and lemon juice. Cover and shake vigorously until well chilled. If serving over ice, fill a Collins glass with ice and strain the cocktail into the glass. If forgoing the ice, strain into a Nick and Nora or coupe glass. Top with Champagne and finish with the lemon twist.

Recipe: Classic French 75

Yield: 1 cocktail

Ice

  • 1 ounce gin or cognac
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup or 1/2 ounce Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub
  • 3 ounces Champagne or dry sparkling wine
  • Lemon twist

1. In an ice-filled shaker, combine the gin or cognac, lemon juice and simple syrup or shrub. Cover and shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into a Champagne or coupe glass and top with Champagne. Finish with a lemon twist.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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