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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (French 75 in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

TLDR; – French 75 Recipe

  • 1 oz of gin
  • 3 oz champagne/prosecco
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple sugar

Combine gin and juice and sugar. No ice. Top with champagne and add a lemon as a garnish.

Episode 3 Details:

A Big Gun, Old Tom, and a 700 Year Old Struggle

On June 15, 1389 the Ottoman Empire’s army decimated Serbian forces. The Serbian loss would go down in hisotyr as a national holiday. A celebration of Serbian culture and freedom. 525 years later to the day, Serbians would kill a famous Austrian and drag the entire world into a war. A war where a famous canon would kill tens of thousands of people… and then be used for the name of a sophisticated drink that has nothing to do with death and everything to do with life.

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

On June 15,1389, under the command of Sultan Murad an invading Ottoman Empire Army faced off against a defending Serbian Army led by Prince Lazar. The battle was fought in a field, in land ruled by the Serbians, in a spot about 3 miles Northwest of what is today Pristina, in Kosovo. 

The Serbian army was a mix of Serbians, Bosnians, and a European Christian coalition. Prince Lazar could assemble such an army. After all he was the most powerful of the Serbian lords. What he said, went. 

Now this was a long time before reliable methods of record keeping existed, so we don’t know exactly what happened that day on June 15. But, we do know that both armies were decimated. Wiped out. Prince Lazar? Dead. Sultan Murad? Adios. Which was the only time, actually that an Ottoman Sultan was ever killed in battle. 

But, what matters more about this encounter was the depleted Serbians, who simply couldn’t muster any more strength to stave off future invading Ottoman armies. And a national and religious holiday that survives still today, (Vee – Doughv – Dahn) Vidovdan, which commemorates the Kosovo Myth, as it came to be known. 

The myth turned into Serbian folklore and rose to a position of Serbian Nationalism, of a courageous army fighting for freedom from a much more power invading army. That holiday, (Vee – Doughv – Dahn) Vidovdan, is celebrated in June every year still today. 

Yet, one of the most remarkable things is the course that battle set, back in 1389 when two armies decided to poke each other to literal death, that unveiled a long and bloody line of events, pain, and death, which created a drink that holds none of that pain, and all of the elegance we’d prefer to remember about humanity.

Move forward 525 years to the day, to the year 1914, in June, on that special, national Serbian Holiday, when a few more Serbians and Bosnians made history once more. It was Danilo, a prior school teacher, I’m sure he would have never expected the cataclysmic landslide of events that unveiled from his plan, a plan masterfully laid out and blundered at every turn. 

Perhaps, if him and his conspirators had known that their plan to take one man’s life in honor of, once more, Serbian Nationalism, would actually take the lives of 9 million people and injure another 23 million, they would have reconsidered. Perhaps, if they had, had a bit more time to sit down, and sip this cocktail which lay at the end of the deadliest war ever in human history, there would be no deaths, there would be no power struggles, there would be no cocktail.

Of course, that’s all foolish thinking. For humans will always fight and struggle and kill for their identities. Without an identity, who are we, after all? So, Danilo did what he had to do.

He coordinated his assassins along the route that the 1911 Graef and Swift Double Phaeton would take. And with a bit of luck and good timing, Serbia would fight back in bold fashion against those seeking to take its land. You see, during this time there was a man named Franz, a very important Austrian man named Franz, who believed that he could move from his control of Bosnia on to his control of Serbia and the land that had been fought over 500 years ago was at risk once more.

So, the 6 automobiles, carrying police officers, special security officers, the mayor, the chief of police, high ranking military officials and Franz himself, set out on a predetermined and announced route, not knowing that 6 assassins were planted along that route.

As the motorcars crawled down the streets of Sarajevo heading closer and closer to their first bomber, Franz and his beautiful wife Sophie, let their hair blow in the wind with the top down on the sports car. You see, Archduke Franz Ferdinand wasn’t worried. Not with all the protection around him. And so when they passed the first bomber on that day…nothing happened.

The first assassin failed to act.

Next to this first assassin was another assassin. This one was armed with a bomb and a pistol. He too failed to act. 

So, the sports car roared on by oblivious to the danger facing it. Until it met the third bomber. And this one acted by throwing a well timed bomb at Franz Ferdinand’s sports car. The bomb bounced off the convertible cover and into the street, where it detonated and blew up the car behind it, wounding 20 people.

Now aware of their immediate danger the motorcade took off as fast as it could to town hall. They made it safely, where Franz proceeded to give a scheduled speech using the wet, blood covered prepared text, which had been removed from the bombed vehicle and brought to him. 

Now it’s about this time that the nerves of Franz were shot. With his wife, the love of his life, on the run in a foreign country and attacked, yet forced to pretend, as the Serbians were, that all was okay. Now was a moment, if there ever was one, for a few sips of the strong clear drink which could steady the nerves, and would steady the nerves of so many in the following years.

Yet Franz, ever concerned about the victims of the tragic bombing incident decided to, after delivering his speech, to head to the hospital to visit the wounded. Even this would have been okay. But it was a blunder, a simple mistake that even the most experienced driver makes now and again. A jammed clutch. Which stalled the vehicle on the way there. Which left the Archduke exposed and the fourth assassin, with a handgun pointed right at him. 

This assassin took his shot, a shot that sent a bullet through the jugular of Franz. And a second shot, aimed at the governor but missing and hitting Franz’s wife in the abdominal. Franz’s finals words before he sputtered to death were “Sophie, Sophie! Don’t Die! Live for our Children!” Followed by uttering several times, “It is nothing,” in response to those asking about his injury. 

Yet it was something. It became everything. And over the course of the next few years more would die and hope they were living for their children. Their wives. Their parents. But, 9 million of them wouldn’t.  

For after the death of Franz and Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia, Russia joined in on Serbia’s side, and Germany, France, and Britain were also drawn in via alliances until the sides were drawn – the allies and the axis powers – World War I – The Great War. 

And the Allied forces mingled their troops, sending them all over the European war fronts to defend Axis power invasions. The US, why, they stayed on the sideline for as long as they could, not wanting to upset either side. After all, the US was a relatively new power. Were they even a power yet? By the end of it all, when the rest of the countries had carved themselves apart, they would be.

But, back in 1914, after a group of assassins, 525 years after a mythical battle, started a cascade of dominoes that left English Soldiers on foreign soil witnessing the horrors of war. And to cope, some turned to drink. One drink in particular that possessed a potent kick as fierce as the shells it was drank out of. This drink tasted sweet, but not too sweet, knocked down a bit by the added citrus. 

They drank this mixture out of used shells, a very unfitting start for a very classy drink. When it made its way to the United States a year later in 1915 it had gentrified. But, perhaps it had already been there under a different name, served in Boston in the late 1860s by Charles Dickens himself at parties.

Either way, blood and war and gunpowder wasn’t good for civilized society even if it could be good for selling drinks. So the drink grew up. It changed through the years until it ended up in a tall glass, which it’s famously known for today.  

But, back then, you could make the drink with applejack, or sometimes even cognac. Both of those check out considering where in the world this drink came from. In fact, soldiers would drink whatever they could get their shaking hands on, just to steady their hands. 

The unsteady origin of this drink has other stories though too.

Several years after the soldiers drank it a wartime reporter allegedly brought it back to the US and shared it there. 

Years later, after dirt covered the atrocities men will bring on another for that same dirt, the drink was also popularized in Europe by a famous bartender named Henry, at a well known bar which took his name, in Paris.

Henry would remain in obscurity with this drink. His neighbor Harry would claim the credit. Harry also ran a bar, named Harry’s bar. It was not too different from Henry and Henry’s bar. They were also right next door to each other.

To the victor goes the spoils. And the history.

History remembers the standing hero, or the one who cowered long enough to still be standing when the rest of the heroes had shot each other to death with cannons, after sipping cocktails out of used shells.

Harry was that hero. He wrote the recipe down in his book “The ABC of Mixing Drink,” a famous cocktail book. Harry claimed a barkeep in London had modeled the drink after a Tom Collins but used gin and one other important ingredient.

In the end, who really knows where the drink came from. It did rise to prominence during a time of great chaos, and chaos brings with it a loss of details. A forgetting of the facts. So, I like to think that the true story, the real history of this drink, was one of liquid courage to the soldiers that were asked to do unspeakable things to their fellow humans at the beckoning of a few others wearing suits.

And even today, that drinking this drink is a reminder of how horrible humans can be to one another. The ways we can inhibit and stunt others out of pride. And also the way that courage can break those barriers and set us all free, so we can stand together, sipping out of shells. 

And that’s why it became the drink of choice in Europe for English Soldiers on the French Front lines as they shot the (Soy – Santo – Qween – Say) Soixante Quinze and drank a bit of gin, with some lemon, sugar, and champagne out of the empty cannon shells, from the cannon that could lay you flat with alarming precision, like this drink. 

Named after the shell.

Shot from the cannon.

In the war that took millions of lives. 

And created a myth, 

Not unlike the myth from a war,

Started exactly 525 years before

for the same reason – One country trying to control another

The cannon simply referred to as (Soy – Santo – Queen – Say) Soixante Quinze by those that fired it, for the deadly accurate 75 millimeter bore that gave it, it’s name. 

And the drink better known today not by the French name of the cannon, but the English translation – French 75 – 

a light drink, made with champagne, that makes you wonder how anyone could not only operate a cannon after such a strong drink, but want to after finding so much beautiful peace within it’s flavors. Another mystery of humans better left unsolved.

Anyway…I’ll drink to that.