Behind the Bar: Bastille Day Cocktails

Dale DeGroff shares his French cocktail picks for Bastille Day

Get out your beret: Sunday is the historic French holiday Bastille Day! It’s time to play a few games of pétanque and eat a bowl of Gruyère-crusted onion soup and a plate of steak frites. But you must have at least one cocktail before you order a bottle of Beaujolais. So what’ll it be, Mack… err, make that monsieur Mack. Fortunately, you have a number of Gallic options, some dating all the way back to Prohibition.

While most elixirs served during The Great Experiment were terrible, a few good concoctions were enjoyed in that period. We exported the "American School of Drinking" to France, as Albert Stevens Crockett called it in his wonderful Old Waldorf Bar Days, and after Prohibition ended, we got in return beauties like the French 75 — and, if you believe the legend, the Bloody Mary.

Now the Bloody Mary needs no set of instructions, no discussion, since every cocktail aficionado in the country will swear that his or her own formula is the best and all others are simply wrong, misguided or malicious. I, of course, will share with you my take on it, should you care to experiment a bit.

The French 75 is another story, but the recipe can be made with cognac or gin. Though the bartenders at New Orleans’ acclaimed French 75 Bar are prepared to duel at dawn to protect the primacy of the cognac version, I would be a second for either camp; I like them equally.

You can also enjoy the Sidecar, another classic from the Prohibition era. (Be warned: Some mixological historians think that it’s simply a Brandy Crusta re-branded.) Harry McElhone, in his pocket-sized tome ABC of Mixing Cocktails credits a man named MacGarry of the Buck’s Club in London with the invention, but respected cocktail author David Embury insists that it was created in Paris by a close friend. For the sake of the holiday, let’s go with Embury’s version of history. And when you fix the drink, I hope you have the good sense to use French cognac and Cointreau, and — do I really need to say it? — fresh lemon juice.

Finally, I suggest you end your Bastille Day with an after-dinner tipple that will be difficult to resist: the Parisian Blonde Cocktail. It’s a simple but perfect combination of Jamaican rum, Curaçao and cream. À votre santé, mes amis…

Click here for Dale DeGroff's Bloody Mary recipe. 

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisory board member.


This story was originally published at Behind the Bar: Bastille Day. For more stories like this join and drink better. Plus, for a limited time get How to Cocktail in 2013, a cocktail recipe book — free! Join now.