Good Spirits > A Touch of France Warms the Soul

Behind every successful holiday event is a successful choice of drinks. There is a wealth of nominees that will easily enhance your holiday meals and gatherings. Wine, champagne and myriad alcoholic spirits are always good bets. Certainly, wine is the best thing to drink during a meal, as it enhances the flavors of the food.

However, welcoming guests to your home and helping them to feel at ease requires something a little special—an exquisite and inviting cocktail. After a lot of hard, practical research, my editor and I found a cocktail that is as near perfect as they come.

The French 75, supposedly named after a World War I artillery weapon, combines cognac, champagne, orange liqueur and other exotic ingredients. Gin is also used in many versions. The cocktail is credited to Raoul Lufbery, a French-American flying ace with the famed Escadrille Américaine air fighting unit. While this tale may or may not be completely true (like many historical adages), there’s no doubting that the resulting cocktail is genuinely satisfying and refreshing. My guess is that it will be a hit, especially now that it is popular to rediscover classic, old-time drinks.

“The French 75 is one of those great, classic cocktails making a comeback in this age of the ‘crafted’ cocktail,’ which is what we specialize in here,” says Michele Duval, wine director at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa in New Castle. “We make ours with cognac, not gin, because cognac is appropriate for winter, the way it warms going down. Also our guests come here to experience the luxury of a grand old hotel, and cognac is the kind of upscale spirit that our guests are looking for.

“Our bartenders are specially trained in the art of the hand-crafted cocktail and enjoy making these great drinks that show off their skills,” Duval continues. “Also, I feel if it’s called a French 75, it should have a French spirit in it—like cognac.” I couldn’t have pegged cognac any better myself, especially with regard to sitting by a warm fi re or milling around a buffet table during a New England winter.

If you prefer to use gin, feel free, as gin is one of the grandest, most flavorful spirits around. Vodka, too, can be used, in which case the drink becomes a French 76. However you make it, you and your guests are in for a decided treat.