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!