Kir and Kir Royale
When in doubt, leave it to the French to master the art of enjoying a good drink on every occasion. For long lunches with friends and family, when you want to relax and enjoy, a much-loved wine cocktail Kir – or if the occasion is a bit more festive and special, Kir Royale – is a perfect choice. Just copy the French who have been sipping it for decades as an aperitif ahead of those long weekend lunches, while chatting with friends, family, and neighbors.
So when was this heavenly drink created? The story goes that in 1904 a waiter named Faivre came up with an idea to mix white wine with local blackcurrant liqueur (creme de cassis) that’s been produced in the Burgundy region since the mid-1800s. He served his drink in Cafe George in Dijon and it became known as Cassis Blank.
However, thanks to a colourfull priest Felix Kir the cocktail is better known as Kir. Felix Kir became a hero of the French Resistance during the Second World War as he helped more than 4,000 prisoners of war escape from a nearby camp when Nazis occupied the city.
The very revered and respected priest, who was later honored with France’s Legion d’honneur and became the Mayor of Dijon from 1945 to 1968, was also a big fan of local products.
When the Nazis confiscated all the yummy Burgundy red wines, he created the drink by mixing four parts of the local white wine made from the Aligote grape which is dry, acidic with natural aromas and flavors with one part creme de cassis.
The creme de cassis is a deeply colored, sweet liqueur made with blackcurrants that were soaked in eau de vie (fruit brandy). Once the blackcurrants are macerated, the blackcurrant skins and seeds are drawn off and the sugar is added. The result is vicious, sweet liqueur which, when added in white wine, gives it the rich, deep red color of Burgundy.
Images taken from Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay
In a story that cannot be confirmed, but is fun to think it’s true, Kir declared the drink the official beverage of Dijon’s city hall and said it tastes like resistance.
After the war, Kir pioneered the twinning movement and popularized his drink by offering it at receptions to visiting delegations. The visitors, delighted with the combination of sweet liqueur full of flavor that complements perfectly the acidity of the Aligote wine, brought the recipe back home, spreading the popularity of the drink that tastes like resistance.
In 1951, already well known Kir gave the owner of the Lejay-Lagoute brand of creme de cassis exclusive right to use his name for blackcurrant liqueur and later the cocktail. And this is how the drink got its name.
The cocktail soon became famous all over France where it is often adapted to include other local wines and liqueurs. Instead of blackcurrant liqueur, you can use blackberry or peach or raspberry liqueur. The important thing is to use dry, high acid and non-aromatic wine, in order to get the French aperitif you will enjoy.
If wine is not your thing, there are also dozens of variations of Kir without the wine – from Cidre Royal made with cider and calvados instead of whine, to Kir Biere made with lager or light ale to Pink Russian made with milk in place of wine. Variations are endless, making this cocktail perfect for all, from beer lovers to champagne aficionados.
Kir’s more expensive “cousin” is Kir Royale, is a cocktail made of Champagne instead of the Aligote white wine. Because it is more expensive, Kir Royale is typically reserved for celebrations and special occasions.
Keep in mind that neither Kir nor Kir Royale should be very sweet or deeply colored. The perfect mix is a pale, refreshing drink with a delicate blackcurrant flavor. It should be sweet enough to dull the edge of wine’s acidity but not tooth numbing sweet.
The cocktail is meant to be sipped as an aperitif and too much sweetened or alcohol would take away its necessary freshness and make it too heavy.
Typically, Kir is served in a regular small white wine glass and Kir Royale in a Champagne flute, but, honestly, any glass will do as it is so good. Try it!