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The right way to Make a Kir Royale, a Brilliant Champagne Cocktail With a Blackcurrant Twist

The right way to Make a Kir Royale, a Brilliant Champagne Cocktail With a Blackcurrant Twist

The Kir Royale is fascinating, in a way. In most ways, really. It’s got a great story with a long history. It has cultural relevance. The taste is great and complex, perfect for any time celebratory bubbles are called for. The only way it’s not interesting is the recipe. Mixologically speaking, it’s really quite dull. 

The Kir Royale is literally two ingredients—Champagne, and a blackcurrant liqueur from France called crème de cassis—and armed with just that knowledge, you have most of what you need to make one at home. But you really can’t tell the story of the Kir Royale without first telling the story of the Kir, and you really can’t tell that story without a brief diversion into the clergy, World War II, and the irrepressible character of Félix Kir. 

Kir was born near the town of Dijon, in Burgundy, France, in 1876. He felt drawn to religion, joined the seminary at 15, and was ordained as a priest. Ordinarily, this would be the end of the story—even in famously non-religious France, “man becomes priest” is not a terribly uncommon tale. What’s distinctive about Kir is that he was both a priest and war hero: He was deployed in World War I and earned a Croix de Guerre medal, but earned fame as a resistance figure in World War II. 

In 1940, after the town officials fled and the German war machine started rolling in, the 64-year-old cleric stepped up for the people of his city, or, in the words of Time Magazine, “more or less appointed himself mayor of Dijon.” He pretended to work with the Nazis while actively undermining their efforts; when discovered, they sentenced him to death. He managed to escape the sentence, as well as survive an assassination attempt, wherein he was shot twice but a would-be fatal bullet aimed at his heart was stopped by a notebook in his breast pocket. He evaded the Gestapo while he healed, and rode back into Dijon with the French tanks in September 1944, the city was liberated, and Kir was a hero. This is how a member of the clergy was elected to run a major French city: In France, secularism is a constitutional principle, but Kir was a special case. They loved him in Dijon. He ran for mayor officially in 1945 and easily won, and would continue to be elected three more times until he died in 1968 at age 92. 

Burgundians had been drinking a mixture of dry white wine and crème de cassis under the name “blanc-cassis” for a long time, but it was Félix Kir who took the drink global. It was practically a tourism campaign; everyone knows about the legendary Chardonnays of Burgundy, but this drink celebrated the lesser-known local white wine, Aligoté, mixed with the locally produced crème de cassis. Kir persistently served it to visiting delegations—it’s like being given a glass of orange juice in Florida, or a cheesesteak in Philadelphia—and so renaming it was an easy choice. Dry Burgundian white wine and crème de cassis is, now and forever, a Kir. Change the wine to sparkling wine, a more luxurious choice, and it becomes a Kir Royale.

The Kir Royale is the more famous of the two because Aligoté is relatively uncommon outside of Burgundy, and because everyone wants an occasion to drink sparkling wine cocktails. The Kir Royale is bright, effervescent, easy to make (no ice required!), and celebratory. Cassis has the talent to elevate a lackluster sparkling wine but also to not obscure the charm of a great one, making the Kir Royale a perfect drink to fix yourself, whether you’re celebrating the end of a year, the beginning of a new one, or having reclaimed your city from the invading fascists. 

Kir Royale

0.5 oz. Creme de Cassis

5.5 oz. Sparkling Wine

Pour cassis into a flute or wine glass, and gently top with sparkling wine. Stir if necessary, and garnish with a lemon twist if you want to, or possibly nothing at all.


Briottet Crème de Cassis.

Maison Briottet

Creme de Cassis: If you recognize this drink from the 80s or 90s, you probably had it with Chambord, the black raspberry liqueur from France that cosplayed as creme de cassis back when you couldn’t find the latter anywhere. Those days are over, and most halfway decent liquor stores carry at least one brand of cassis. There are actually lots of good brands—I like Lejay and Briottet most, with Massanez and Giffard in a very close second place.

As for substitutions, Chambord doesn’t really work. It’s too sweet, too round, and lacks the tart edge. You need a tart red or black fruit here. Pomegranate works. Black cherry might in a pinch, depending on the cherry. But I say, buy a little bottle of creme de cassis and make them the right way, and that way you can also enjoy El Diablos the way they’re meant to be enjoyed. 

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Sparkling Wine: As mentioned, you can use real Champagne here and it doesn’t take away from the complexity of the wine (i.e. it’s not a “waste” of Champagne). I wouldn’t use Dom Perignon or anything, but if you’re wondering if it’s a sin to use that bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Moet et Chandon to make Kir Royales, it’s definitely not. Champagne, as (almost) always, is king, and why they call it “Royale.”

That being said, if you’re eyeing the Kir Royale as a choice way to liven up a bottle of bubbles you’re not as keen to enjoy on its own, I’d trust that instinct. I personally found this best with “traditional method” sparkling wine, so Crémant or Cava. Prosecco was good too but not quite as good. Slightly confounding this was the two rosés I tried this with—the Korbel “traditional method” rosé had fruit that stepped on the cassis’ toes, while the rosé prosecco I tried was perfect, more rose petals and voluptuous fruit, which complemented the cassis perfectly. I don’t know what to make of this but to say that they were all pretty good, and if you’re not using proper Champagne, your mileage may vary. 

Garnish: I found a lemon peel more important for visuals than for taste. Use it if you’ve got it, but if you don’t, or don’t want to, don’t worry about it.

Source: Robb Report

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