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Love’s Bitter Revenge: Lillet Rouge steps into the spotlight

Love’s Bitter Revenge: Lillet Rouge steps into the spotlight

Lillet Blanc had its moment to shine yesterday in my Overdraft Protection cocktail where I used it in much the same way as I would a white vermouth.  Today I’m going to do something very similar with its lesser known sibling Lillet Rouge. Flavored by the Bordeaux grapes Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and fortified with orange liqueur and a bit of quinine, Lillet Rouge is excellent on its own, chilled with an orange slice. It was introduced to the world in 1962 by Pierre Lillet, who hoped it would enjoy the same fame as Lillet Blanc, which had rocketed to stardom because of its role in James Bond’s cocktail the Vesper. Unfortunately, that type of celebrity endorsement never quite happened for Lillet Rouge, and it has remained an ingredient that doesn’t get used as often as it should. Low in alcohol and mildly bitter, Lillet Rouge brings a pleasant fruitiness to cocktails, as well as a beautiful red color. Because its bitter flavor is so gentle, using Lillet Rouge in a cocktail allows you to bring in other spirits to fill the bitterness role, which might otherwise compete with something bigger like a red vermouth. With the resurgence of craft cocktails, many industry and home bartenders are finally rediscovering Lillet Rouge and gaining respect for its versatility as a drink ingredient. I’ve also used it here on the blog in Up in Arms, the Post Election Sour, and Mercury Goes Direct.

Today’s cocktail is one that I’m hoping to serve for a Valentine’s Day event at Gorshin Trading Post in Haddonfield. It’s called Love’s Bitter Revenge. Call me a cynic, what can I say? To create this drink, I paired Lillet Rouge with Bluecoat, which happens to be locally produced here in Philadelphia and is one of my favorite gins. I specifically chose Bluecoat because its a juicy gin, with great citrus flavors and incredible balance. To that I added Cara Cara orange juice, which tends to be sweeter than regular and has more of a red color. Blood orange would work well here too. Since I needed a bitter component to balance the drink and to go along with its name, I decided to use Cynar, one of the Italian Amari that I like best, and a dash of DRAM Apothecary’s black bitters. I use these bitters fairly often in place of Angostura or aromatic bitters because there’s so much depth to their flavor that comes from things like black tea, black walnuts, and black pepper. For my garnish… what else but a broken heart??

Love’s Bitter Revenge

1½ oz Bluecoat Gin (or your favorite citrusy gin)
1 oz Lillet Rouge
½ oz Cynar
1 oz Cara Cara orange juice (substitute Blood orange or regular)
1 – 2 dashes DRAM Apothecary black bitters

Add all the ingredients to the bottom half of a shaker tin with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds or until well-chilled. Double strain into a Nick & Nora glass and garnish with an orange heart (or orange strip). Enjoy!

Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.

Cynar: Mispronounced and misunderstood.


Ok so let’s say you’re sitting at a bar one Saturday night and you’re looking for something new to try. The bartender asks if you like bitter spirits like Campari and you nod yes enthusiastically. Thirsty Camel would be so proud! He reaches behind the bar and pulls out a bottle of Cynar and gets ready to pour… Whoa, wait a minute!! First of all, who wants to drink something that sounds like it’s connected in some way to cyanide, and, secondly, is that an artichoke on that bottle?? Or if you’re young enough to have played the video game Zelda you may mistake it for a large green rupee, which was worth 100 points. Either way, it’s definitely not something you find appealing at the moment. The truth is that Cynar is not related to Cyanide in any way, despite the fact that it appears that way in print. It’s actually pronounced “CHEE-NAHR” and it always makes the Spirits Most Likely to be Mispronounced List. Yes, there really is one. As far as the artichoke goes, it’s only one of more than a dozen botanical ingredients that go into making Cynar.

Unlike its counterparts Aperol and Campari, Cynar hasn’t been around for all that long. In 1949, an Italian named Angelo Dalle Molle, created the spirit and advertised it as, “Cynar, against the stress of modern life.” Dalle Molle is rumored to have been an Italian playboy and it is said that he chose the the artichoke because of it’s digestive properties, and because it was also an aphrodisiac. The first sip of Cynar is sweet with flowers, oranges, and spice, but there’s also a note of something medicinal and vegetal. Maybe that’s where the artichoke comes in! After those first impressions you begin to taste the bitterness and that continues right through to the finish. Cynar can be enjoyed on its own, either neat or on the rocks, or paired up with soda, orange juice, or tonic. Technically it’s an apertivo, but it has enough deep bitter flavor that it works as an after dinner drink as well. It has also become an intriguing ingredient in cocktails, finding its way into the Cynar Cup, a fun variation of a Pimm’s Cup from dell’anima in NYC, and a Cynar Manhatten from Sbraga right here in Philadelphia. It adds a bitter complexity to lighter spirits, but it’s equally at home with things like Bourbon and Rye too.

The cocktail that I chose for today is Mortal Sunset, created by Chantal Tseng, who is currently at Petworth Citizen in DC where she has helped to create The Reading Room, a weekly program that marries books and cocktails. That has Thirsty Camel road trip written all over it! The Mortal Sunset starts off with Rye as its base spirit, and then goes on to include Cynar, black tea maple syrup, and orange juice, with a Cherry Heering drizzle on top. There’s so much complexity in this cocktail that comes from the Rye and Cynar in combination with the black tea syrup. The orange juice adds a nice acidity that lifts the drinks up, and the Cherry Heering adds just a tiny bit of sweetness.


Mortal Sunset (Chantal Tseng)

1 ½ oz Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey
½ oz Black Tea Maple Syrup*
½ oz Cynar
½ oz Orange Juice

Add all the ingredients (except for the orange wheel) to the bottom half of a shaker tin. Add your ice (1 large cube and 2 small if you have them on hand). Shake for 15-20 seconds until cold. Double strain using a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer and then pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a floated orange wheel and drizzle a dash of Cherry Heering on top of it. Enjoy!

*Make the syrup by combining equal parts of Oolong Black tea with Maple syrup.