One of the main appeals of drinking sparkling wine cocktails in the summer, aside from the fact that we all instantly transform into charming swells while holding a flute by the stem, is that they tend to be lower in alcohol, and easier to sip than a straight spirits cocktail. Strangely, the most famous one of them all, the venerable old French 75, turns that notion on its head. Also turned on its head: You. After you’ve had more than a couple, the 2 ounces of gin, along with champagne, lemon juice, and sugar, packs a wallop (the name of the post-WWI cocktail is said to allude to the kick of the French 75mm gun).
We were on the lookout, as we often are, for Mexican food and an excuse to drink mezcal, but more importantly, to find something that could convince our skeptical friends to loosen up to the often-challenging spirit and drink it with us.
The Mexican 75 from the Painted Burro in Davis Square fit all of those criteria nicely. The cocktail was introduced as a special at Painted Burro’s bar on Cinco de Mayo, to commemorate the Battle of Puebla, at which the Mexicans defeated the occupying French, owner Joe Cassinelli explains. He’s frequently trying to encourage guests to try mezcal, the often smoky, hot spirit. “We try to find a way to highlight the characteristics, but it’s very easy to get put off by mezcal, something like a Monte Alban that’s so smoky and really intense as an introduction,” although, the Somerville restaurateur reminds us, there is an amazingly broad spectrum of styles and flavors.
They use the very approachable Del Maguey’s Crema de Mezcal. Since Cassinelli is hesitant to sweeten mezcal too much, he opts for adding prosecco, instead of champagne, at the end, which tends toward the drier side, and adds effervescence without the price. The St. Elder, an elderflower liqueur made in Somerville, “definitely balances well with the smokiness of the mezcal,” says Cassinelli. The celery bitters add some bright vegetal aromatics. (Mezcal and bitters is a great combo, by the way. Try a few dashes of Peychaud’s or mole bitters in your next sip.)
The cocktail was such a hit in May that the restaurant decided to keep it on the menu. “You want to make things that are palatable, so people keep coming back,” says Cassinelli. A lot of the new fans have transitioned to ordering flights of mezcal at his bar.
Now that’s a victory worth commemorating.