Lillet Blanc Is The Fortified Wine That Gives Your Gin Cocktails A Floral Touch

An open secret of the bartending world, Lillet Blanc is little-known outside of the service industry but incredibly popular within. Hop behind every bar in your city and the vast majority will have a bottle tucked into their fridge somewhere. If you enjoy making cocktails, it certainly makes the list of liquors you should keep in your home bar. Lillet plays a similar role to sweet and dry vermouth, rarely sitting in the spotlight but always ready to lend a helping hand.

Unlike vermouth, though, Lillet Blanc is fully capable of being enjoyed solo thanks to its unique but fantastic flavor profile. It's a fortified wine made with a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes combined with some trade-secret fruit liqueurs which are then infused with macerated oranges and quinine. The result is something like the cross between a fresh honeysuckle flower and a pine needle – it has the taste of honey, fresh flowers, and a pleasant botanical bite. You'll have to try it yourself to understand just how well these flavors work together. 

It's often compared to Cocchi Americano, which is another aromatized wine aperitif, though Lillet Blanc is considerably less sweet (in a good way). It's most often paired with gin thanks to how well the two spirits complement each other. Lillet Blanc adds a light sweetness to the gin without overwhelming it and the botanicals of each play nicely together. It's not the only way to drink it, but it's a good place to start if you're experimenting.

Try mixing Lillet Blanc and gin with these classic cocktails

The most famous use of Lillet Blanc has to be the Vesper Martini, which was first concocted by the author Ian Fleming as a drink of choice for James Bond in the book "Casino Royale" back in 1953. Fleming really did his homework – the gin-based cocktail is fantastic and has continued to be a bar staple for decades. Still, it's worth mentioning that the recipe for Lillet Blanc isn't the same today as it was when James Bond first introduced the Vesper Martini. 

Back then, the spirit was known as Kina Lillet. Kina Lillet was made in 1887 with more quinine and had a sweeter flavor profile. Quinine is an herbal antimalarial pulled from the Peruvian cinchona tree and there was a whole genre of drinks designed to make the medicine more palatable called quinquinas that Kina Lillet belonged to. In 1986, to appeal to a broader consumer base, the Kina Lillet recipe was changed by reducing the amount of quinine and sugar. The change came with a rebranding and, thus, Lillet Blanc was born.

Another great recipe that includes Lillet Blanc is the Corpse Reviver No. 2, which puts that hangover on layover when you need it most. The glass is rinsed with absinthe and filled with equal parts gin, Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, and lemon juice for a truly eye-opening experience. And if you enjoy more spirit-forward cocktails, the White Negroni is a unique twist on an old classic that uses gin, Lillet Blanc, and a bitter French aperitif called Suze.