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.

Kir Royal cocktail in front of a French chateau

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.

lake kir with cloudy reflections

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.

glasses of kir wine cocktail, coloured with blackcurrant liqueur

Who put ice in me? Drink me straight.

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).

glass with peach liqueur next to Champagne

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.

millefeuille with blackberries to serve with a Kir Royal

Never mind the tea – serve this mille-feuille with a Kir Royal with crème de mûre

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.

glass of Kir Royal drink in front of a chateau

Sitting on a terrasse with a Kir Royal with crème de mûre (blackberry) in Saint-Germain-en-Laye

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.

Champagne glass of French bubbly, Kir Royal in front of a castle

a Kir Royal, either traditionally served with crème de cassis or other fruit liqueurs from Burgundy

Kir Royal Recipe

Champagne flute filled with a Kir Royal in front of a French chateau

Kir Royal Recipe

Author: Jill Colonna
Prep Time5 mins
Total Time5 mins
Course : Drinks
Cuisine : French
Keyword : kir royal, kir drink
Servings : 1 serving

Description

A popular French apéritif drink served before dinner. Made with blackcurrant liqueur (crème de cassis) and topped with Champagne or other French fizz like Crémant de Bourgogne.

Ingredients

  • 10 ml (1 dessertspoon/½oz crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) * (see variations below)
  • 75 ml (3fl oz) Champagne or sparkling French wine

Instructions

  • Fill a Champagne flute with the crème de cassis liqueur and top with Champagne or French sparkling wine.

Notes

* The Kir Royal is traditionally made with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) although variations are possible in most French bars and restaurants with crème de pêche (peach), framboise (raspberry) or crème de mûre (blackberry).
To make a traditional Kir apéritif, top crème de cassis with still white wine (ideally Bourgogne Aligoté) from Burgundy. Normally served straight up in a wine glass.

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.

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Comments (12)

Mmmmm….I’d love to sip on Kir Royals with you, Jill! Sending you wishes for some sunshine…hope some comes our way, too! xo

Thanks, Liz. You brought the sunshine to Paris, anyway. Now we just need some heat. That’s where the kir comes in again; cheers!

Cheers to you! Kir Royal is my favourite! Hoping to see you in 2014!

Likewise, Mardi. Let’s drink a kir to that!

These fruity drinks always make me swoon. So yummy but stronger than they appear.
I remember slurping down my first lime shandy and then falling comatose. No capacity for alchool ;(( Yummy Kirs do the same thing to me

Comatose at lime shandy? You make me giggle, Carol. Then again, I have a capacity for wine but give me a glass of cider and it goes straight to the head!

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