I devote this category of posts to a long list of drinks that are very hard to come by unless you really hunt for them. Some of these are going to be one-off bottles that you can only get at a specific time of year. Others might simply be too unusual for common taste and so aren’t stocked by the run of the mill liquor establishment. In many cases the internet can come to the rescue in buying a bottle of a particularly elusive product but the markup for shipping delicate glass bottles makes it expensive for all but the rarest of the rare.
Enter the Cocktail Snob’s favorite topic of conversation- Kina Lillet. Made famous in 1953 by James Bond and Ian Fleming and part of a lost cocktail called the Vesper Martini or simply the Vesper. Kina Lillet is a quinquina, to the layman a liqueur made with quinine, the flavor common in tonic water. So much like the gin and tonic, Lillet would pair well with the botanical flavors in Gin. Unlike simple tonic water Kina Lillet uses a base of white wine and is then blended with herbs and fruit and finally aged in oak casks.
The difficulty comes in that Kina Lillet refers to the product as it was bottled between 1872 and 1987. In ’87 following a series of upgrades and modernizations to their equipment, Lillet rebranded and started a big marketing push and Kina Lillet became Lillet Blanc. There is also a Lillet Rouge and a Lillet Rose. There is some evidence to suggest that the company also changed their formulation at this time making a sweeter drink with less of the quinine bitterness. Other research suggests that it was perhaps Lillet Vermouth and not Kina Lillet which was the drink of choice for making cocktails in post war england but as with many things in cocktail history the truth may never be known.
For their part the Lillet company line is that the actual recipe for Lillet Blanc is the same as that for Kina Lillet but history seems to disagree with them as it has been noted in some of their own advertisements from the time that the flavor was different.
Savoy Stomp: a blog I’ve recently started following has some notes on the quest for Kina going deeply into the history
For my part I finally found a bottle of Lillet Blanc. It tends to fly under the radar a bit because it is a wine and not a hard liquor. Thus it doesn’t make an appearance in the oregon liquor search. Liquor stores don’t usually carry it, and most of your wine shops haven’t heard of it. Oddly enough I finally found my bottle at the well tended wine section of my local grocery store. An unusual find to be sure but at least I can be assured to finding it when I want it without resorting to the internet.
Tastings to follow on this one as I plan to use it in crafting a drink for a local distillery contest and will be playing around with both it and aviation gin.