If you love cocktails, you’ve probably fallen in love with Lillet, the French wine liqueur. Lillet (pronounced lee-lay) is a wine-based aperitif hailing from Bordeaux, and is a mix of red wine and brandy. It’s a mainstay in classic cocktails such as the Corpse Reviver No. 2, but it also shines in modern drinks, such as the Baller’s Cocktail.

Lillet Blanc is an apéritif wine from France made of a blend of red wine and the liqueur known as liqueur de lis (made from the flowers of the lily plant). As a result, it comes in an appealing yellow-green hue, which is why it’s known in some circles as the “green-eyed lady.” The flavor of Lillet Blanc is a light, citrusy mix of orange and lemon, with slight sweet and spice notes. This makes it the perfect ingredient for a wide range of cocktails, particularly those that call for gin or vodka, such as the Cosmopolitan.

Rose season? More like a season of Lillet. Just kidding, there’s room for both in the fridge.

For the uninitiated: Lillet (pronounced lee-LAY) is a French aperitif wine made from Bordeaux grapes and fortified with a blend of citrus liqueurs. You can choose from three variants: Lillet Blanc (made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes), Lillet Rosé (a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sémillon grapes) and Lillet Rouge (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon).

The 17% alcohol content of Lillet is higher than that of a normal glass of wine, but it can easily be diluted and used in cocktails.

The Vesper Martini / Alamy

Vesper Martini (shaken, not stirred)

I love the versatility, says Trey Ledbetter, beverage manager at The Betty in Atlanta. It is sweet, but not too sweet, has a slight bitterness due to the quinine, and is a very gentle product to use. I mean, it’s just good stuff.

Vesper, traditionally made from vodka, gin and Lillet Kina (now no longer available), is James Bond’s favourite drink in the film Casino Royale. Ledbetter uses Lillet Blanc in Betty’s version of the Vesper martini.

It’s just to give it more body. It adds sweetness and helps extract and balance the gin, Ledbetter said.

Spraying, natural

The beauty of Lillet, however, is that you can use it to flavor a drink like Vesper, but it also goes well with a sweet low-alcohol spritzer. Lauren Trickett, for example, a bartender in Los Angeles and ambassador for the Lillet brand, likes to drink Lillet.

The Spritz is probably my favorite bar, because when you get home from work or have guests over, I like to have two or three ingredients and some garnish in the drink, Trickett says. It makes things easier.

You can make the splash as simple as you like, or make it more fun. Trickett combines Lillet Blanc with tonic or sparkling water. When I’m feeling luxurious, I drink Lillet with soda and top it off with sparkling wine, she adds. The specific toppings or additions change according to the season. This summer, for example, she’s incorporating mango and pineapple into her spritzers.

A Lillet spritzer / Photo courtesy of Lillet

Try to brew it

If you like to tinker with homemade concoctions, Trickett suggests playing with Lillet Blanc, which is purer than, say, Lillet Rouge, whose tannins compete.

Lillet Blanc is a very nice open canvas for adding different herbs like rosemary and chamomile. Different teas are also very helpful, Trickett says.

Lillotes can also be used for fat soaking, which essentially means that the wine can absorb fats, oils and essences from additives containing these elements, such as nuts. Trickett uses unsalted pistachios.

It takes on the character of honey for me. Because Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are the grapes of Lillet, which already have a kind of honey-like character. So when you add pistachios to this drink, I think it creates a baklava-like cocktail in the bottle, she explains. Let it stand in a bottle at room temperature for 18 hours, then strain it.

If you’re in the mood for something fruitier, Ledbetter suggests adding a few slices of apple. Or even lime zest to add a lemony note, he says.

Lillet Rosé in use Paloma

The Paloma, which traditionally combines tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda, screams summer, and the Lillet Rosé can be used for a playful interpretation. Instead of the traditional two ounce tequila, Trickett reduces it to one ounce and adds two ounces of Lillet Rosé, then lime juice and seltzer or grapefruit soda.

It’s nice that Lillet Rosé adds the orange and all the sweetness of fruit liqueurs, she says. You could add honey, but honestly, I don’t like sweetness. That’s why I like dryer, Trickett said.

Published on the 13th. May 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of alcohol is Lillet?

Lillet is a French aperitif made in the style of a fortified wine created in 1872, inspired by a cocktail made by the French officer, Jean Lillet, in the 19th century. The fortified wine is made from Bordeaux wine and the exotic liqueur called Kina Lillet, which are both from the Gironde region of France. In the United States, it is made from a combination of Kina Lillet; some say that it is a blend of three different kinds of brandy, but the exact recipe is a trade secret. Lillet Blanc is a fortified wine that is a blend of a few different grapes, including Bordeaux, and is a mix of white wine and liqueur. It was originally created to be a type of vermouth, but it is now considered it’s own drink. The liqueur in Lillet Blanc is primarily made from vin jaune, a type of fortified wine, and is flavored with herbs and spices. Although there are many different varieties of Lillet, the most popular is the Lillet Blanc, which comes in a light and dry style, and a sweet style.

What does Lillet taste like?

Lillet is a unique wine that goes by several names: “Lillet”, “Lillet Blanc”, and “Lillet Rose.” It’s also a unique liquor, used to make several traditional cocktails, including the Kir Royal, the Bronx, and the Vesper. The key ingredient that makes Lillet unique, however, is its base wine: the eponymous “Lillet.” Made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the Bordeaux region, Lillet is a wine that features a very pronounced herbal flavor. A bitter, dry aperitif, Lillet is light in color and flavor. If you’re expecting a sweet, syrupy liqueur, then you’re in for a surprise. Lillet is a wine aperitif, and a rare example of one that is actually based on red wine (in its original form, Lillet Blanc was primarily made from white wine, but it has since been reformulated to be a blend of both). If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter that makes a great mixer for a long drink or a cocktail, try Lillet Rouge.

Can you drink Lillet by itself?

While typically mixed with other ingredients, Lillet can be drunk on its own. The wine’s fruity undertones and subtle sweetness make it ideal for those who like softer drinks. To drink Lillet alone, be sure to select a good vintage. A Lillet of lesser quality will taste harsh and astringent when drunk neat. If you have a high-quality bottle, you can drink it by itself. However, since Lillet is often served as a digestif, you may want to pair your glass with a half-dozen cheese crackers. You’ll find your drink goes down much easier this way. Lillet was once the drink of choice for proper British gentleman (who had just enough of it to be silly, but not so much that they were falling down drunk). Nowadays, more and more people are turning to Lillet as a mixer, especially in Moscow Mules. But is it possible, as some cocktail connoisseurs claim, to enjoy Lillet straight? It’s a matter of personal taste, but we think that once you’ve had your first sip of Lillet straight, you’ll be hooked.

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