Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blanc. Lillet Blanc.

"A dry martini," he said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'm . . . er . . . concentrating," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

Thus spoke James Bond in Casino Royale, the very first novel he appeared in. Never mind that the Bond of the novels was really more of a whiskey man - the Bond films have since elevated "shaken, not stirred" to the stuff of legend. Sadly, though, this particular drink - later named by Bond for the lovely, ultimately doomed double agent Vesper Lynd - has sort of fallen by the wayside.

It's quite easy to make - Gordon's is gin, and vodka is well, vodka. Both of those are common enough. But what in the world is Kina Lillet?

Kina Lillet is (was) an aperitif wine produced in Podensac, France. It's fortified with citrus liqueurs made from sweet and bitter oranges and grapefruit peels, and is flavored with quinine, the stuff that makes tonic water taste so bitter. In the mid-80s, the Lillet company dropped the "Kina" from the name and also significantly decreased the quinine component. Now Lillet (pronounced "lee-lay") is available in blanc and rouge variations; the blanc is called for here.

Taste test time! I'm drinking my Lillet Blanc "well chilled", just like the bottle says.

Smell: Like white wine, but a bit grassy and herbal. Reminds me of dry vermouth.
Taste: A bit wine-y and very citrusy, with a slightly bitter finish.

So now that you know all there is to know about Lillet (or all the important things, anyway), it's time to re-visit the James Bond Martini.

The Vesper
3 oz London Dry gin
1 oz vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
2 dashes angostura bitters

David Wondrich, who wrote a very thorough and entertaining article about the ideal formulation of this drink, recommends adding the bitters to get a bit closer to the original, bitter-er Kina Lillet version. (The ideal, he says, would be to hunt down some quinine powder, but I'm a little too lazy for that.) He also gives the directions for mixing it thusly:

Shake (if you must) with plenty of cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist a large swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top. Shoot somebody evil.

I'm Daniel Craig, and I approve this cocktail.

And since you've already comitted to a whole bottle of Lillet to make your James Bond drinks (and since I have basil running wild in the backyard), here's another Lillet cocktail for your drinking pleasure:

Sweet Basil
(from Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, via Food & Wine Cocktails 2009)
10 basil leaves
3 ounces Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz gin
1 oz simple syrup

In a shaker, lightly muddle the basil leaves. Add the Lillet, gin and simple syrup and fill the shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Sip lovingly. Don't forget to store your Lillet in the fridge after you're done - it'll keep longer than way. (It is wine, after all.) Cheers.


  1. 4.5 oz of alcohol. Heavy. That is one stout drink. Well crafted piece

  2. I LOVE Lillet in cocktails, but mainly enjoy as an apertif.

    However, nothing beats Sauternes.

  3. Lillet is a huge asset. Check out some of my recipes using it:

  4. I'm a big fan of Lillet. The vesper isn't my favorite martini, but it's good for a change. What I really like is Lillet over ice with a nice meal of sauteed fish. Yum.

  5. I haven't tried Lillet yet - thanks for the description of the taste! Your cocktail sounds interesting (and strong!) I'll have to try it some day. First I'll need to buy the Lillet... :)
    Sarah @ Two Tarts

  6. These drinks are so interesting, but sometimes I prefer to go with something a little simpler like this

  7. Nice post and drink is nice. In the bar with drink and something new every time or every night like different some bar having different ideas for cocktail and other drinks.

  8. Great article. Recommend 1 1/2 Gin, 3/4 Lillet Blanc, 1/2 simple sugar, muddling 10 basil leaves with a good lime. Fantastic!