The Kir Cocktail

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The Kir cocktail is a before-dinner mixed drink made from creme de cassis and white wine. This simple drink originated in France, where it is still a popular aperitif, served before meals. Initially, the type of white wine used to prepare it was the Bourgogne Aligote, a Burgundy wine. However, today people and bartenders use a variety of white wines, Chardonnay and Chablis being the most popular; yet people in France preparing this cocktail at home tend to use whatever local wines they find, which is ideal.

For those who don’t know it, the creme de cassis, also known as blackcurrant liqueur, is used for several drinks, and it was invented in 1841; one can drink it simply, as a digestive after-dinner liqueur, but it is also used for making frappes in certain parts. The creme de cassis is made by crushing blackcurrants and soaking them in ethanol; sugar is added afterwards for fermentation and a bit of sweetness. Like the wines that work best with the Kir cocktail, this creme also originated in Burgundy, but some very good versions are also made in Quebec, Luxembourg and Anjou.

Initially, the drink we are talking about was named Blanc-Cassis, but it subsequently got the name of a former mayor of Dijon in Burgundy, Felix Kir. He has a major role in popularizing this drink, and he would serve it to his guests at official receptions and dinners. His strategy was complex because while he was an attentive host offering his guests a specialty drink, he was also promoting two of his region’s most valuable productions: those of white wine and creme de cassis. An interesting fact is that while Kir initially allowed one producer to name the drink after him, he subsequently extended this right to everyone who wanted to produce it.

Moreover, it seems that before World War II, the Kir cocktail was prepared using red wine, but when the German Army confiscated all reserves, the people, encouraged by mayor Kir, started preparing it with the surplus white wine. Today, there are many variations of this drink, and although it started as a French cafe drink, people serve it around the world. In a French cafe however, when asking for a Kir, the bartender will probably ask you which variant you prefer: de cassis (with blackcurrant), de pêche (with peach), or de mûre (with blackberries).

The Kir cocktail is served in a wine glass, and it is prepared thus: you add 10 milliliters of creme de cassis at the bottom of the glass, and the gently pour 90 milliliters of white wine on top. You serve it straight, without garnish. Here are some of the more popular Kir variations:

  • Kir Royal – the wine is replaced with Champagne;
  • Kir Petillant – the white wine is replaced by sparkling wine;
  • Kir Imperial – the cassis and wine are replaced by raspberry liqueur and Champagne;
  • Kir Normand – the wine is replaced by Normandy cider;
  • Kir Pamplemousse – the ingredients are replaced with sparkling wine and red grapefruit liqueur;
  • Tarantino or Kir-Beer – the wine is replaced by lager beer or ale.

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