On this auspicious Bastille Day, it seems only right to celebrate the unsung heroes of French drinking: the spirits and liqueurs. Everyone knows that France does a pretty good job with making wine, but it also produces some extraordinary spirits, everything from cognac to absinthe to aperitifs—and even rum.
We asked mixologist Natasha David of Nitecap on New York City’s Lower East Side, who just returned from France’s Cognac region, to give us three drinks that celebrate the independence found in these spirits. “I’m a huge fan of low ABV [alcohol by volume] drinking, so on Bastille Day when you’re outside, drinking all day long, it’s nice to drink something that’s a little lighter in alcohol," she said. "Having a drink at 5 p.m. seems kind of decadent, but it’s such a wonderful thing to do on a summer night, to sit outside and have a drink at 5 in the afternoon.”
These cocktails are best consumed post-work over a game of pétanque—followed by crêpe, if you can find one.
Using Absinthe and French Rum
“I wanted to make my own interpretation of the Green Beast, a classic Pernod cocktail, with just sugar, lime, Pernod, water and cucumber slices,” says David. “I love anything that’s bubbly, so I added sparkling wine and then I went with a daiquiri variation. Anise and cucumber are like a marriage made in heaven. The cucumber has all of these earthy, savory flavors that play off the herbaceous notes in absinthe. Absinthe can be such an overpowering flavor, but the cucumber really lightens it up and makes it much more approachable. It’s a nice introductory cocktail for somebody who is a novice in absinthe. And the Plantation rum, which is made in France, is super versatile – a great go-to.”
1 ounce Plantation 3 Stars White Rum
½ ounce Pernod Absinthe
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce Simple Syrup
½ ounce cucumber juice
Cucumber twist, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Combine all of the ingredients, except for the Champagne, and shake for 15 seconds. Strain the cocktail into a coupe, top with Champagne, and garnish with a Cucumber Twist.
*Cucumber Juice: Peel a cucumber and put through a juicer. Strain out the pulp with a fine mesh sieve. If you don't have a juicer, a blender will work just fine.
Using Cognac, Calvados, Vermouth
“The idea behind this drink was to make a summer version of a caramel apple—like at a street fair, but a boozy version," says David. “I’ve always really loved Cognac, and I love brandy in general. It’s my favorite spirit category. Brandy gets a bad rap because everyone thinks it’s going to be this sweet schnapps-y thing that people grew up drinking in horrible shots in college. But it’s actually this beautiful, subtle expression of a fruit, which I adore. I love it in stirred cocktails. Brandy can add really nice body to a cocktail. It gives a nice mouthfeel. Busnels Calvados gives a very light expression of the fruit and then you have the Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, which is a little higher in the cru and has a very rich quality to it. And Noilly Prat Ambre vermouth has just started being imported to America. It’s red vermouth, but with an additional 24 other herbs and spices. You think that would make it overly complicated, but it’s actually super subtle; it’s sweet and savory at the same time.”
1 ½ ounces Busnel VSOP Calvados
1 ounce Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth
½ ounce Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
1 teaspoon Cane Syrup
Pinch Kosher salt
1 dash orange bitters
Orange twist, for garnish
Fill a mixing class with ice. Add all of the ingredients and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the orange twist.
*To make the Cane Syrup combine 2 parts cane sugar with 1 part water in a pot over medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved.
“Pommeau is really the most underappreciated spirit in the entire world. When people ask me what it is, I always describe it as an apple wine. It’s basically a fortified apple juice,” says David. "The inspiration behind this drink isn’t French at all. I grew up in Germany and there was something I used to drink as a little girl called an Apfelschorle, which is apple juice and sparkling water. It’s a very dry apple juice, not sweet, like, Mott’s. The idea was to make the grown-up version of my kid drink.”
2 ounces Lemorton Pommeau
1 ounce Lustau Amontillado Sherry
¼ ounce pomegranate grenadine
1 tsp. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
Dry apple cider
Orange slice, for garnish
Fill a wine glass with ice. Add all of the all ingredients, except for the apple cider, and stir for 15 seconds. Top with apple cider and garnish with the orange slice