Chow Bella

A Very French Story About the Perfect Two-Ingredient Summer Cocktail

A splash of  crème de cassis is all you need to transform champagne into a Kir Royale.
A splash of crème de cassis is all you need to transform champagne into a Kir Royale. Melissa Campana

There is a woman at my farmers' market who sells a seemingly random assortment of produce. I always want to stop by her booth to see what she'll have this week. On one such occasion, she had plump, juicy black currants.

“What would you use these for?” I asked, tempted by their beauty, but skeptical of my ability to do something useful with them.

“You could make your own crème de cassis,” she said.

I bought the black currants.

They were already macerating in sugar when I mentioned my project to a friend. We were drinking a crisp white wine, acidic and light, the final act of a late summer dinner. She slid into her kitchen and returned with a bottle of crème de cassis, turning our glasses just a little pink as she poured a splash for each of us. This was my first Kir.

click to enlarge The Kir Royale is the fancy version of a Kir, incorporating Champagne in place of still white wine. - ANNA WILLIAMS
The Kir Royale is the fancy version of a Kir, incorporating Champagne in place of still white wine.
Anna Williams
It’s a simple cocktail, created to highlight regional French flavors. In its earliest form, it is said to have been invented by a waiter named Faivre in Dijon sometime around 1904. He mixed the white wine of the region with crème de cassis, calling it blanc-cassis.

Or so the story goes.

The drink ostensibly received its current name when Canon Félix Kir, a priest, war hero, and mayor of Dijon from 1945 until 1968, began serving it regularly to guests and dignitaries.

Once I had tasted this delightful, nearly effortless drink, I began to notice it popping up everywhere I looked. As with other branches of mixology, I began to see the riffs bartenders had created over the years. It is not uncommon, in France, to ask for a splash of a different flavor of liqueur: Crème de mûres (blackberry), crème de pêche (peach), and crème de framboise (raspberry) are all popular choices. And there are even versions created using red wine, beer, even cider.

Since that first Kir, I have had many delightful conversations in the company of some version of this drink. My favorite, and almost certainly the best known, is the Kir Royale, which swaps out still white wine for Champagne. Unless you’re somewhere very posh, it’s more than likely that you’re drinking a Kir Pétillant, which is made with any sparkling wine other than Champagne, but that isn’t nearly as fun to say.

The term “royale” itself, goes back to the 17th century, when it was used to describe a drink that substituted wine for beer in a punch or cocktail. As time went on, “royale” became shorthand for a drink which had sparkling wine added. If you start looking, you’ll begin to notice it on craft cocktail menus, denoting the sparkle that will surely be in the mix.

I like well-chilled bubbles under nearly all circumstances, but there is something particularly bewitching about the ease and elegance of this combination. It’s a little sweeter than I might normally gravitate toward, but turns out to be the perfect companion for a summer day when I’m looking for something refreshing and cheerful.

Kir Royale
Serves 1

1 ounce crème de cassis
4 ounces Champagne

Measure the crème de cassis into a chilled flute. Top with Champagne. Repeat as needed.

Note: These basic measurements will work for any version of a Kir, but feel free to vary the ratios as needed to get the sweetness you desire.
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Although she started out in the wine industry, Cara Strickland was converted to cocktails by a Corpse Reviver No. 2. Now, you’ll rarely find her far from a Hemingway Daiquiri, Last Word, or Water Lily.