Lillet Triple Play
Hint, it’s pronounced lee-LAY. So, yes, the title rhymes.
What do James Bond and Hannibal Lecter have in common? They both love Lillet! However, they drank it quite differently: James in the Vesper martini and Hannibal straight with an orange slice. What can I say, it pleases all types.
This family of aromatized wines includes a Blanc, Rose, and Rouge. All three are worth trying, but Blanc is the most common.
If you'd rather watch our video about Lillet, here's a video on our YouTube channel for your viewing pleasure:
Lillet falls into a category of aperitif called quinquina. That sentence might not have made sense to some of you, so let’s define a few words.
An aperitif is an alcoholic beverage meant to be taken before a meal to stimulate your appetite.
A quinquina is an aromatized wine that contains quinine. It's vermouth's slightly more bitter cousin. And like all aromatized wines, it should be kept in the fridge and drank within a few months.
Quinine is a bittering agent derived from the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, also called kina kina. The Spanish missionaries introduced quinine to Europe, and it became very popular in the 19th Century. Quinine is most notable for treating Malaria. First, it noticeably acts as a muscle relaxant and seemed to improve symptoms. Upon further more modern research, it stops the reproduction of the malaria parasite within red blood cells.
The British had begun adding quinine to their sparkling water since the country already loved drinking it with gin, thus forming tonic water and the magical pairing, gin and tonic. The French responded by adding quinine to their aromatized wine creating the quinquina.
Other notable quinquinas are Bonal, Byrrh, and Dubonnet. I have a feeling we will cover those delicious quinquinas in future posts . . .
In 1872, the Lillet brothers, Paul and Raymond, founded the Maison Lillet. They previously worked as merchants in Bordeaux’s fine wine. Bordeaux was already considered the epicenter of wine production around the world as well as France’s key harbor for the Americas.
Their father, Kermann, was both a monk and doctor. As any good monk or doctor would do in those days, he created his own liqueurs and fortifiers. In 1887, he took a trip to Brazil and learned about the Kina Kina plant. He came back with the idea of a Kina aperitif, or tonic wine, and began adding it to his elixirs. His sons then marketed his product and grew the family business.
To this day, Lillet has been produced in its original location of Podensac, a region within Graves, Bordeaux.
Kina Lillet was launched in 1895 as an aromatized wine with a healthy dose of quinine. It quickly become popular to drink on its own and took on the name “The Apertif of Bordeaux."
As cocktail bars sprung up around Europe in the early 1900s, mixologist began playing with it in cocktails. Kina Lillet was specifically called for in many classic pre-prohibition era cocktails, including the Corpse Reviver #2.
Kina Lillet was specifically mentioned in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel, Casino Royal.
In this first James Bond book, 007 orders his martini specifically with half a measure of Kina Lillet, 3 measures gin, and 1 measure vodka. This particular martini recipe was lost in the pages of Fleming's first novel until the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royal hit the screen with Daniel Craig portraying 007. Here's Bond ordering the Vesper:
After that film debuted, the Vesper martini appeared on cocktail menus around the world. I'd happily drink 007, I mean, the Vesper martini any day!
In 1985, the Maison Lillet company was sold to the Borie family, who owned many of Bordeaux’s chateaux. Bruno Borie led the initiative and invested in modernizing the production facilities.
He kept the name, but relaunched in 1986 making a few changes to adapt to current palates:
He discontinued the flagship Kina Lillet. The name kina had become a generic term and didn’t add anything to differentiate the brand.
Lillet Blanc became its replacement and saw a reduction in quinine to reduce bitterness and make for a lighter and fruitier aperitif.
Lillet Blanc is the best substitute for any classic cocktail recipe calling for Kina Lillet. Taking over as Lillet's flagship product, this gem brings flavors of candied orange, honey, pine resin, and tropical fruit.
This pale straw aperitif is made from a blend of 80% semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc, and 5% muscadelle, grapes. The wine is aged for one year in oak casks.
It is fortified with citrus liqueurs made from sweet oranges of Valenica, green oranges from Morocco and Tunisia, and bitter oranges from Haiti. All those lovely citrus notes brighten the wine and balance the semi-sweetness.
In 1962, Lillet came out with Lillet Rouge to take advantage of the US market’s demand for sweet vermouth. This red quinquina showcases flavors of fresh orange, berries, vanilla, and delicate spices.
Lillet Rouge is made from 80% merlot, 15% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% cabernet franc grapes along with the same liqueurs and cinchona bark as Lillet Blanc.
Born in 2012, Lillet Rose tastes slightly sweeter than Lillet Blanc and showcases flavors of berry, orange blossom, and grapefruit. This aperitif is delicious on its own, or as a replacement for a blanc or rouge vermouth in your favorite cocktail recipe.
It’s made from a mix of grapes from the other two Lillets: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and semillion grapes. Plus, the same base liqueurs to fortify as the blanc.
Death & Co.'s modern classic
2 oz Aquavit
¾ oz Lillet Blanc
½ oz Cointreau
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz honey syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled.
Double strain into a chilled coupe, then garnish with orange twist.
Jessica Gonzalez created this drink at the famed Death & Co. in NYC in 2011. She originally made this drink shaken and over the rocks. However, we prefer if up and presented that way instead. Enjoy our cocktail demonstration here:
PDT modern classic
1½ oz rye whiskey
1 oz Lillet Blanc
½ oz Calvados
¼ oz Green Chartreuse
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled, approximately 20 seconds. Strain into rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange slice.
The original Harvest Moon shows up in the 2001 PDT Cocktail book with Wild Turkey Rye, Applejack, and a 1/2 oz of Green Chartreuse. It was further adapted by Daniel Eun at the PDT bar with American bonded Rye, Calvados, and 1/4 oz of Green Chartreuse to smooth it out. Also, the recipe calls for Bob Abbots bitters which as difficult to find. Angostura makes a great substitute. Watch a video demonstration here:
There are many wonderful aromatized wines out there to explore. Lillet is one of our favorites. Do yourself a favor, give it a try! Hell, give all three a try and report back on your favorite!
Sending aromatized love,