It's French, it's classy, James Bond loved it--say hey to Lillet, one of our favorite bottles for the summer. An aperitif wine, Lillet is made from Bourdeaux grapes along with macerated fruit liqueurs, which gives it a pleasantly fruity, but not overly sweet, character.
While Lillet Blanc (the white version) is delicious on ice, with a twist of orange or lemon and a splash of soda, it's also a brilliant cocktail ingredient. Low-proof and nicely balanced, not too sweet and not too bitter, it blends seamlessly with many spirits without overwhelming them, much like vermouth.
Pick up a bottle at your local liquor store or wine shop, and follow along with these three simple cocktails--none of which require much more than staple spirits and a little fruit.
Easy: The Vesper
He famously drank his martinis shaken, not stirred--which is actually a terrible idea--but James Bond also invented the Vesper, a cocktail we can get behind. "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet," he instructed a bartender in Casino Royale. We simplified those proportions for a drink that really highlights the freshness of Lillet (and lightens up the proof so you're not passed out after just one).
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, stir together an ounce of Lillet, an ounce of gin (we like Tanqueray Ten here), and an ounce of vodka, with a dash of orange bitters. When we say "stir," that means good and long -- 30-60 stirs -- not just a quick swirl with your spoon. You really want to chill this guy down. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel, giving it a good twist before you add it to the glass in order to spray those citrus oils on top.
Intermediate: French Connection
They're both French, they're both made from grapes -- Cognac and Lillet work together beautifully in this stirred cocktail. Fans of other dark spirits should take well to cognac; it's smoother and sweeter than a bourbon, say, but aged in oak and therefore picks up a lot of those same vanilla-caramel notes. A little honey syrup brings all the elements together.
Instructions: To a mixing glass with ice, add an ounce of Lillet and an ounce of Cognac. (We're fans of Pierre Ferrand -- their 1840 is high-quality but reasonably priced, and works well in cocktails.) Add a dash of Angostura and a dash of orange bitters, if you have them; then add a quarter-ounce of honey syrup (honey cut with equal parts hot water, so it blends more easily).
Stir that all up, strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice, and garnish with an orange peel.
Advanced: Sunday in the Park
Since Lillet is made with citrus and slightly herbal, we wanted to find the best citrus and herbs to pair with it--which is how we devised this easy-drinking bourbon cooler. It's a good idea to double-strain this cocktail to get rid of any floating thyme bits, but if you skip this step we won't tell the Cocktail Police. Just don't leave out the thyme, in the drink itself or in the garnish--that's what makes this cocktail so compelling.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1.5 ounces Lillet, 1.5 ounces of bourbon (we like Buffalo Trace), an ounce of fresh lemon juice, a dash of Angostura bitters, and a quarter-ounce of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). Toss a full thyme sprig in there, too. Shake hard, and double-strain (that is, through a fine mesh strainer) into a tall glass with fresh ice. Add an ounce or two of soda water to top it off and garnish with a new thyme sprig.