By now I’m sure you’ve all realized that if gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum are the main actors on the stage, there are also loads of supporting players without whom cocktails would just never happen. Two weeks ago we talked a lot about vermouth, a fortified wine that’s been infused with lots of botanicals. Vermouth’s role in a cocktail is to bring down the alcohol content, to contribute herbal elements, and to echo flavors in the main spirit. Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge are similar to Vermouth in that they are also fortified wines, but rather than being infused with botanicals, they have fruit liqueurs (mostly citrus) added in. This gives them a completely different taste profile with very little bitterness to speak of. They are readily available in most liquor stores, are reasonably priced, and they work well with virtually all the spirits. They are also excellent on their own as apertifs, served well-chilled over ice with a twist of citrus.
Today we’ll focus on Lillet Blanc, whose great claim to fame is that it’s one of the ingredients in the Vesper, a cocktail loved by James Bond. Blended from white Bordeaux grapes, Lillet Blanc is incredibly well-balanced, light in alcohol, and very refreshing. Being the huge Negroni fan that I am, I wanted to do a white version using Liberty Gin from Palmer Distilling in nearby Manyunk, Lillet Blanc, and Suze d’Autrefois. The Lillet Blanc replaces the sweet red vermouth in the traditional recipe for a Negroni, and the Suze replaces the Campari, bringing a good amount of floral flavor, sweetness, and bitterness all at once. All 3 spirits in this drink work extremely well together, playing off the others’ flavors, and creating a very harmonious whole. Although I thought it was fine just the way it was, I wanted to put my own spin on it and I did so by introducing some bitters. I tried a number of combinations and landed on 1 dash of Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters to liven things up, and 1 dash of DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters to smooth things out. I could definitely taste every element in this drink, starting with the clean juniper of the gin, right into the bitter sweetness of the Suze, and finishing up with the citrus and white wine notes of the Lillet Blanc.
One final thought: because Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge are wines, they need to be kept refrigerated, as does any spirit with an ABV less that 20%.
1 oz Palmer Distilling Liberty Gin
1 oz Suze d’Autrefois
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 dash Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters
1 dash DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass. Fill ⅔ full with ice and stir 30 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with a grapefruit twist. Enjoy!