What is Kir Royale and Kir? The French cocktails from France

Indulge in Kir and Kir Royale: Classic French cocktails with a twist of Crème de Cassis. Learn their history and how to make them in seconds. Cheers!

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
kir and Kir Royale: The French cocktail
kir and Kir Royale: The French cocktail

Kir, you may have heard of this somewhat fancy French cocktail, but did you know there are dozens of variations of this two-ingredient mixed drink that you can easily make at home?

We won’t go over them all in this article, but we will explore two classic Kir drinks that have become some of the most well-known French aperitif drinks in France. 

  1. Kir: A white wine-based drink.
  2. Kir Royale: A champagne-based drink. 

What is Kir Royale? 


Emily in Paris drinking a Kir Royal on Netflix series season 3, episode 4.
Emily drinking a Kir Royale on the Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”

Kir Royale is a refreshing, red-hued cocktail that originated in Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, France. It’s made with only two ingredients — champagne, or sparkling wine, and Creme de Cassis, a syrupy, sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants.

This refreshing French cocktail is usually served chilled in a champagne flute or glass and is a popular pre-dinner or pre-lunch aperitif drink in France.

You could say that the Kir Royale is to France, what Margarita is to Mexico, Mojito is to Cuba, and Bellini is to Italy.

Although this chic French champagne drink is well-known in France and has been for a long time, it’s getting more exposure outside of Europe thanks to the media and popular TV series such as “Emily in Paris,” where Emily is seen drinking a Kir Royale in season 3, episode 4.

Is it spelled “Kir Royal” or Kir Royale (with an “e”)?

  • French spelling: UN Kir Royal
  • English spelling: Kir Royale or Kir Royal

You can skip this part if you are not interested in how to spell this drink. However, for all you petty spelling sticklers who insist that Kir Royale should be spelled “Royal,” without an “E” in English because that’s how it’s spelled in French, this is for you. 

I purposely chose to spell “Royale” with an “E,” but technically, both “Kir Royal” and “Kir Royale” are acceptable spellings in English. Many reputable sources and publications with dozens of editors also agree, such as Bon Appétit, Williams Sanoma, The Spruce Eats, and even the Washington Post, which all reference this drink with an “E” (in English).

“Kir Royal” is spelled without an “E” in French because of French grammar rules. Adjectives should agree with the gender of the noun they are modifying. In this case, “Un Kir” is masculine; therefore, the adjective “Royal” does not have an “e” added to it. If it were feminine, then there would be an “e” at the end of the word “royal.”

But I’m not writing in French. 

English and other languages that borrow French words and phrases do not always adhere to the same French grammatical rules. It’s actually quite common to adapt foreign words and phrases to suit English-language conventions and pronunciation. So, including or omitting the “e” in the English spelling is a matter of style and preference rather than strict grammar rules. 

For example, most English speakers would spell the French loanword word “café” without the French accent grave over the “é.” In reality, you can spell it both ways in English.

Royale: /Roy-AL/ :In English, this is an adjective often used to describe something luxurious, high-end, or sophisticated, such as “Battle Royale” orBurger Royale,” and of course, when John Travolta mentions “Royale with cheese” in the movie Pulp Fiction, he says “royale,” not “royal” which are pronounced differently in English.

Now, let’s move on to the rest of the article, which focuses on these two Kir cocktails rather than spelling.

Kir Royale is one of many Kir cocktails.

When most tourists hear “KIR,” they immediately think of the champagne-based Kir Royale cocktail. However, there are dozens of Kir cocktail variations that are usually region-based.

Some replace champagne with red wine, rosé, and even cider. There is even a Russian-inspired Kir cocktail called the “Double K” that contains vodka. 

What all these Kir cocktails have in common, including the bubbly Kir Royale, is that they are all descendants of a much humbler drink which does not contain any champagne.

Kir: The original Kir cocktail

Before there was Kir Royale, there was the humble Kir, formally known as “blanc-cassis” (white-cassis) or “vin blanc cassis” (white wine cassis), which is what it was called from 1904 to about 1950. 

Like Kir Royale, Kir is made with Crème de Cassis, but instead of champagne, it’s topped off with extra dry white wine.

The original Kir cocktail used Aligoté de Bourgogne, a dry white wine from Burgundy, where this drink was invented. 

What is the ingredient Crème de Cassis?


Kir: French drinks, Aperitif made with Creme de cassis and wine or champagne

Most Kir cocktails contain Crème de Cassis in them because that is what the original Kir was made of, but some modern bar tenders do swap it out for other liqueur flavours such as Chambord. 

Crème de Cassis, French for “cream of blackcurrants,” is a sweet and syrupy blood-red “fruit cream liqueur” made from blackcurrants. It was invented in Dijon in 1841 by Auguste-Denis Lagoute,

You may be wondering if there is any dairy in French cream liqueurs like Irish Baileys. The answer is no, there is not. The word “crème” (cream) refers to its creamy, syrupy-like consistency.

Today, there are many Crème de Cassis variations made by different companies such as Crème de Cassis de Bourgogne, Crème de Cassis de Dijon, Gabriel Boudier Crème De Cassis De Dijon, and so on. Crème de Cassis is also produced in other countries, such as Canada. 

Why is it called Kir?

The Kir cocktail has an interesting history that dates back to 1904.

It’s named after Félix Kir, a Catholic priest, member of the French resistance during World War II and mayor of Dijon from 1945 to 1968 with a cult following.

But Félix Kir didn’t invent the drink.

Félix enjoyed drinking cassis blanc (white wine with Crème de Cassis). 

Because of his popularity and reputation, he not only popularized the drink, he lent his name “Kir” to the original Crème de Cassis inventor who trademarked the Kir name in 1951, and the rest is history.

Who invented Kir?

Montchapet bar-tabacr, and Birthplace of cassis-blanc aka the Kir aperitif

There is a lot of lore behind who and how the original Kir recipe was invented. 

According to the owners who bought the Montchapet bar-tabac in Dijon, it was invented by accident at his bar in 1904 when a waitress inadvertently poured white wine into a glass that had some sweet Crème de Cassis in it. Rather than throwing the drink out, the customer loved it.

The other story is that the waitress was supposed to make a Vermouth and Cassis, one of the oldest aperitif drinks in France, which was very popular during the Belle Epoque until the blanc-cassis dethroned it. Instead of adding Vermoth to the glass of Cassis, she accidentally poured white wine. 

There are a few other stories, but none can be confirmed with absolute certainty.

Kir Royale and Kir Recipe

Since Kir and Kir Royale are both from the Burgandy region, purists would argue that you should only use ingredients from the Burgundy.

But the reality is you don’t have to. As I mentioned before, there are many variations of Kir cocktails that are region-based and don’t use ingredients from Burgundy in their versions. 

For both Kir recipes, make sure everything is chilled. Pour the Creme de Cassis first, followed by the wine or champagne, to ensure all the ingredients mix well. Some people like to use shakers. It’s okay to experiment with the Cassis ratio if you find it’s too sweet.

Kir Royale cocktail recipe

  • Crème de Cassis: (1/5 part ) 
  • Chilled champagne (4/5 parts): Or other sparkling wine such as Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Optional garnish: lemon zest, raspberry, strawberry, etc 

Kir recipe:

  • Creme de Cassis (1/5 part) : such as le Jay 
  • Dry white wine (4/5 parts): such as Aligoté de Bourgogne, a bone-dry white wine from Burgundy.
  • Optional garnish: lemon zest, raspberry, strawberry, etc 

Wrapping up what is Kir and Kir royale

Whether you prefer the classic Kir or the sparkling Kir Royale, both are refreshing French cocktails with Crème de Cassis as the common ingredient.

My friends here in France and I prefer the champagne-based Kir Royale for our apero get-togethers because it feels luxurious. Kir drinks would also be great for cocktail parties because they are easy to make. 

Related: How to Say Cheers in French and make a toast

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.


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