Popular French cocktail, often misspelled Kir Royale, is the chic, bubbly version of a classic French Kir. Served as an apéritif before dinner, it’s a drink made with a little blackcurrant liqueur (crème de cassis) and topped with Champagne or other French fizz like Crémant de Bourgogne.
What’s the difference between a Royal, a Kir, a Kir Normand or Breton and why is called Kir? Let me explain with the recipe.
What is a Kir? A Bit of History
According to Larousse Gastronomique, the Kir apéritif was given its name in the 1960s by le chanoine Kir (1876-1968), then mayor of Dijon in Bourgogne. He took the simple “blanc cassis” to new heights by serving his exclusive drink at town hall receptions.
His idea was a great bit of marketing, supporting the local specialities of Burgundy. Monsieur Kir used the local crème de cassis liqueur from Dijon as the base for the drink – then traditionally topped up with Bourgogne Aligoté, an extra dry (still) Burgundy white wine. Other white wines to use: ideally dry wines such as a simple Chablis, a Bourgogne Chardonnay or other dry white of your choice.
Did you know that there’s a Lake Kir on the outskirts of Dijon? It’s also thanks to the mayor, le Chanoine Kir, who had this artificial lake created in 1964 with 30 hectares of park. Hm. Imagine a whole lake filled with Kir.
See more on Dijon and its crème de cassis.
Best Kir Ratio of Wine to Crème de Cassis
The best ratio of crème de cassis to white wine in a kir is about 1:9, as it’s just enough to give a hint of fruit without overpowering the flavour of the wine. Let’s face it: you don’t want something overly sweet for an apéritif before a meal.
In Burgundy, I was surprised to be served double the dose by our friends from Dijon – so it’s just a matter of personal taste.
What is the Difference between Kir and Kir Royal?
Unlike a normal Kir without the bubbles, the Kir Royal is also made with crème de cassis but topped up with Champagne, hence the name, Royal.
When I followed Georges Lepré’s wine conferences in Le Vésinet near Paris, he had a lovely anecdote on Kir Royal. While he was Chef Sommelier at the Ritz until 1993, he was asked by the actress, Joan Collins for a Kir Royal with Roederer Champagne. Pourquoi pas? Well, it’s shocking to a French person to mix a top Champagne with crème de Cassis – how can you taste the Champagne’s qualities? Perhaps she should have asked for a John Collins instead and found her own twist to it.
So, in short, don’t ruin fabulous Champagne; enjoy it with a good dry brut Champagne without too much character – unless your character is stronger than the wine. Otherwise use a good Crémant de Bourgogne or other French sparkling wine (there are a few: from Vouvray, Saumur, Clairette de Die).
Other Kir Variations
With its origin from Burgundy, Monsieur Kir used the famous local crème de cassis liqueur from Dijon. However, other fruit liqueurs are made from the region. As a result, other varieties such as peach (crème de pêche de vigne), raspberry (framboise) and blackberry (mûre) are also offered in many French bars and restaurants.
Fancy a Kir with peach? Unless stated, asking for a Kir Royal or a Kir is served with blackcurrant (cassis), so ensure you tell the barman that you’d prefer “un kir avec pêche, s’il vous plaît.”
I also personally love it with blackberry/bramble. I forgot to mention it as a pairing in my pâtisserie book, Teatime in Paris, but a Kir Royal made with crème de mûre would be the perfect match with a blackcurrant and vanilla mille-feuille.
Is Chambord Crème de Cassis?
Chambord is a raspberry liqueur and not the same as Crème de Cassis, as it’s a blackcurrant liqueur. However, can Chambord liqueur be used for a Kir? Absolutely. It will also be a good raspberry alternative to a classic Kir or a Kir Royal.
What is a Kir Normand or Breton?
If you’re sitting out at a summer terrasse in Normandy’s Honfleur you need to try the local’s popular aperitif, the Kir Normand. It’s the local Normandy version of a Kir Royal with sparkling cider.
It’s the equivalent of a Kir Royal but made with local Normandy brut cider mixed with the traditional crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). In some restaurants or bars they also add a touch of Calvados liqueur.
The same principle is used for a Kir Breton. In Brittany they top crème de cassis with local Brittany cider. While I enjoy both the Kir Normand or Kir Breton, I prefer drinking cidre on its own, to let the flavour of the apples shine through.
Le Cardinal – Red Wine Kir
Ever seen Le Cardinal listed on a bar list of cocktails for apéritif? It’s not bubbly like the Kir Royal but made with crème de cassis mixed with red wine.
Kir Royal Recipe
Kir Royal Recipe
- 10 ml (1 dessertspoon/½oz crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) * (see variations below)
- 75 ml (3fl oz) Champagne or sparkling French wine
- Fill a Champagne flute with the crème de cassis liqueur and top with Champagne or French sparkling wine.
As the French say, ‘À consommer avec modération‘, to be consumed with moderation.
This post was first published 10 January 2014 but is now completely updated with a recipe card.