Cocktail Cartography

James MacWilliams’s Signature Drink: The French 75

This epic version of a pedestrian classic costs $100; you should try it at least once in your life.

By Andrew Bohrer March 22, 2012


Welcome to local writer-spirits guy Andrew Bohrer’s ongoing series charting the signature concoctions of esteemed local bartenders.

The Drink: The French 75
Made By: James MacWilliams

I often like to point out that Canlis, Seattle’s icon hanging off the cliff of Queen Anne is actually much more accessible than people treat it. There is no dress code in much of the restaurant (but think cufflinks, not cargo shorts), and it isn’t that expensive. But I don’t come here today to tell you about one of Seattle’s best bars with the kindest customer service. No, today I would like to tell you of a special cocktail that is served at Canlis—a version of the French 75 that can only be prepared by the skilled James MacWilliams for those who are looking to have a magical evening.

Let me begin by saying I hate the pedestrian French 75; it’s a cocktail that I have never been happy with. No combination of science and skill has ever been able to render my take on this cocktail anything better than okay. The standard French 75 is beset on all sides by plagues of inadequacy, when what it needs is a refined touch. The French 75 at Canlis is not only defined by legendary service, but also by epic ingredients, hence the $100 cost.

Prosecco and cava may be the backbone of baby showers and mimosas but they have no place in the French 75. You need Champagne Champagne. In this case you’ll get to keep the bottle of toasty Charles Heidsieck used to top off your drink. Fresh-squeezed lemon goes without saying, but for a sweetener, James’s version graduates from regular simple syrup to Grand Marnier 150, a silly version of Grand Marnier that is made out of cognac no less than 25 years old.

Also, you’ll need a gin that can stand up to these strong flavors, and there is no gin stronger than Old Raj. At 110 proof, it’s the kind of gin that W.C. Fields or Winston Churchill would fear in a dry martini. But Old Raj is not just strength, it also is infused with a touch of saffron, and the label is printed on a $100 bill (only half of that is true).

All said and done, James will mix you tableside French 75s for two with all of the aforementioned luxury in a setting that is worthy of such a drink. When you find yourself with a reason to celebrate, or a tax rebate that is burning a hole in your pocket, I can’t stress enough: Try this French 75, if only once in your life.

The French 75

2 ounces Old Raj gin
1¼ ounces Grand Marnier 150
1½ ounces lemon
2½ ounces Charles Heidsieck bubbles
Lemon twist

Shake gin, Grand Marnier, and lemon over ice in a cocktail shaker, then strain into a martini glass. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist. Makes two.

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