Kir Royale is one of those perfectly French cocktails fit for any occassion, and is an adaptation of Kir, a cocktail from Dijon popularized in 1940 by a priest who became a war hero. It’s one of the most unlikely cocktails with an equally unlikely history, but it has a purpose, and remains a well known classic that celebrates both French wine, and Champagne.
First, there was Kir, a local drink favored by, and named for, one Felix Kir, a priest who lived in the city of Dijon, Burgundy, a region noted for its distinctive wines. Kir would later, in 1945, recieve a knighthood in the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest order of military and civil merit, for his service as a resistance fighter during the German occupation of World War II. Kir, the cocktail, was already popular in Burgundy and known as Blanc-Cassis, a mix of white Burgundy wine and blackcurrant liqueur called creme de cassis, until Kir, the priest, became a hero. You see, Kir was responsible for helping 5,000 Allied prisoners escape from a German prison, was later captured by the enemy and sentenced to death, escaped the noose because of his status, suffered a serious wound that left him one step ahead of the Gestapo, and became, after the war, the mayor of Dijon. As mayor, he would offer Blanc-Cassis to visiting dignitaries, and promote both Burgundy wine and creme de cassis, two of his favorite local products, as part of an economic plan that saw a rebuilt city and region rise again in post war years.
Felix Kir was a remarkable man, and because of his wartime adventures and his devotion to the local products of his home region, the combination of white Burgundy and creme de-cassis is forever known as Kir. But what about the “royale” in Kir Royale? Anything can be made royale, for it simply means that you use sparkling wine instead of wine or ale. The concept of royale comes from the days of punch. If an 18th century bartender used sparkling wine instead of whatever the standard option was in a mixed drink of the time, it was called “royal.” The practice continued and is now known as “royale.” The Kir Royale is, simply, Kir made with Champagne instead of wine.
Creme de cassis is more common in France, but it is made in various places around the world, including Oregon. Clear Creek makes a cassis liqueur from Oregon blackcurrants, and it’s wonderfully tart, moderately sweet, and full of fresh fruit flavor. You can keep it local with one of Oregon’s sparkling wines, or stick with tradition and use Champagne, but in either case, use restraint with the liqueur. A Kir Royale should be on the dry side, so a little cassis goes a long way, but the whole concept of a Kir Royale opens up new avenues for experimentation. Sparkling wine and any liqueur will work, and if you don’t have creme de-cassis, try creme de-mure, a blackberry liqueur, or whatever you have. It’s a template that can be anything you like, so explore, and, in the spirit of Felix Kir, keep it local. He did.
1/4 oz Clear Creek Cassis Liqueur
5 oz Dry white sparkling wine
To a chilled Champagne flute, add the liqueur. Top with sparkling wine. With a barspoon, gently stir just enough to mix. No garnish.
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