Handle The Proof: Kir

With the occasional exception of Champagne, most Americans forgo traditional aperitifs before dinner.

OK, I can see waving away vermouth and some of the other ancient liqueurs. But in the right place--say a patio at happy hour or a table at some French restaurant--the seemingly forgotten Kir always calls out.

I say 'forgotten' because ordering Kir will either cause the server to nod into that puzzled George-W.-when-asked-an-unscripted-question look or to bring a Kir Royale to the table.

For some reason the scaled up version--the Royale, with sparkling wine as its base--lacks the vibrancy of regular old Kir. Perhaps something in the bubbles disturbs that looming copper color, like a sunset fading in the glass. Really, the simple mix of white wine and creme de cassis needs no improvement.

Kir was somewhat popular in parts of France throughout until World War Two under the name 'blanc cassis.' A man named Felix Kir--who some say actually fought against the Germans--emerged after the war as mayor of Dijon. He insisted the drink be served at every function (possibly a sign of at least one, if not many, psychological problems). Pretty soon people began attaching his name to the rich sweet-chalky aperitif.

Nothing more to the story. But when bartenders get the proportions right (somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 1) and use a decent white Burgundy, Kir will make you appreciate whatever moment just a little bit more. Since the role of an aperitif is to 'wake up' your palate before dinner...

French restaurants would be the obvious place to try Kir. But New American and global fusion menus welcome the bright taste of the drink, as well. Unfortunately, too many places either don't know Kir, automatically mix a Royale, or substitute syrup for the liqueur.

And that's just wrong.

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