Big Bertha

Big Bertha MapThree things happened when my friend Fatemeh mentioned online that she was “possibly the only person in history to drink a French 75 in preparation for picking up chicken pullets:

1.) I had to look up the precise definition of “pullets”. 2.) I somehow mistook her message to mean that she was preparing to give her Ameracaunas gin-spiked champagne as a welcome libation and 3.) I wondered how well young laying hens could handle their liquor.

Upon re-reading, I realized the error of my original interpretation, but decided that I liked the idea of her having a hen-house filled with intoxicated ingénue poultry. My mind lingered there.

When I’d had enough, my thoughts turned to the cocktail with which Fatemeh was apparently self-medicating: the French 75. Invented by American Harry MacElhone at his eponymous New York Bar in 1915 (a mere taxi ride away from The Western Front), the drink was said to have such a strong kick to it that it felt as if one had been shelled by a French 75mm field gun. In the spirit of la guerre, the new cocktail was named.

The idea that a World War I-era French field gun should be celebrated in such a way strikes me as odd, given the fact that it was woefully inadequate when compared to Imperial German artillery. Odd, but hardly surprising, given the French military’s defense plan was based almost solely upon the philosophy of élan vital*- – the notion that there was a vital fighting spirit inside of every French man so powerful it would turn back any foe by virtue of its sheer mystical power. Though it would be years until the French were able to force the enemy out of their country, they did manage to keep the Huns out of their capital city. And that, in my opinion, is worth a drink.

But the idea of celebrating insufficient weaponry got me thinking: why wasn’t there a cocktail named in honor of the most powerful field gun of The Great War– The Big Bertha? A 420 mm gun lobbying an 1,800 pound shell is bound to lay waste to just about anything. Just ask the Belgians. I figure if one is going to get bombed during wartime, one might as well do it with one, powerful beverage.

Big Bertha

The Big Bertha

This cocktail is much easier to assemble than the artillery for which it was named, requiring little-to-no concrete at all.

A Big Bertha has three ingredients in common with the French 75: gin, lemon juice, and sugar. The key differences are 1.) the addition of kirschwasser for a decidedly German flair and added potency, 2.) a couple dashes of orange bitters because no war-inspired drink should be made without at least a hint of bitterness, and 3.) a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace rosé to add both a touch of historical flair and a faint, bloody tinge to the whole affair.


Makes one stiff drink. Make two to devastate your liver. Or just make a double and bring it with you in a tumbler as you take a leisurely drive through Belgium and Northern France.


• 1 ounce of decent, London Dry gin
• 1/2 ounce kirschwasser
• 1/2 ounce lemon juice
• 1/2 ounce simple syrup
• 2 or 3 dashes of orange bitters
• Ice
• A freshly opened bottle of Crémant d’Alsace brut rosé
• Lemon peel for garnish


1. In a cocktail shaker add ice and pour over the gin, kirschwasser, lemon juice and simple syrup. If you don’t happen to like kirschwasser, hurl the bottle at your nearest enemy and add an extra ounce of gin instead. Stir until well chilled.

2. Pour into a champagne glass (I prefer coupes over flutes because they look like upside down Imperial German Army helmets when the stems have been broken). Top off the glass with Crémant d’Alsace to the rim, and garnish with lemon peel.

3. To serve, carefully walk the glass over to your hen-house and pour the beverage into a clean water trough and encourage your pullets to drink.

4. After a sufficient mourning period, purchase new hens. Repeat as often as necessary.

* Thank you, Henri Bergson.

About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
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