Have you ever had Lillet? If the answer is no, you’ve been missing out. Pronounced “li’ leh” it is a French aperitif created in 1887 by Paul and Raymon Lillet from Podensac, just outside of the Bordeaux region in France. Lillet, considered a “tonic wine” (or quinquina) is a blend of 85% Bordeaux region wines and 15% macerated, mainly citrus, liqueurs. There are now three Lillet varieties: “Blanc,” “Rouge” and “Rose.” Blanc and Rose are made with 85% Semillon white wine. Rouge is made with 85% red wine. All are aged in oak barrels. The Lillet brothers first created the “Kina Lillet” (the Blanc version) considered revolutionary at the time as all other aperitif at the time were red.
What made the brand Lillet so successful was two-fold. The first was Louis Pasteur’s endorsement: at a time when people had substantial fears of terrible illnesses, he stated that “wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful and most hygienic of all beverages”. Second, transatlantic ocean liners began serving Lillet, pushing the drink into the cosmopolitan limelight.
Lillet took the New York City social scene by storm and cemented its popularity. In 1962 Raymond Lillet’s grandson brought Lillet Rouge to the market capitalizing on American’s growing interest in red wine. Lillet Rose did not emerge till 2011 and was aimed at a mainly female following.
Lillet has a taste very similar to vermouth, but has the wonderfully distinct flavors of honey, orange, lime, and even mint. It is best served chilled and can be enjoyed on its own, on ice or in a cocktail, as it is here. The recipe here was based on a recipe by Martha Stewart, but I use the Lillet Rouge (instead of Blanc) mixed with fresh orange juice, adding to the richness and elegance. This is a lovely, smooth Winter cocktail that is nice for sipping during the cooler months.
- 3 ounces Lillet Rouge
- 1 ounce Gin
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
- 4 basil leaves torn, plus a sprig for garnish
- splash of tonic water
- slice of cucumber, for garnish
- Step 1 Fill cocktail shaker with a good amount of ice.
- Step 2 Place the Lillet, gin, orange juice and torn basil leaves in the shaker and shake well for about 10-15 seconds.
- Step 3 Pour cocktail into a coupe glass. Top with a splash of tonic water.
- Step 4 Garnish with a basil sprig and a slice of cucumber.
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