Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Other Cocktails

10 Cocktails to Make with Lillet Blanc

You’ve tried a Vesper. Now what?

Lillet Blanc bottle
Image: / Laura Sant

Whether served with soda water for a lively spritz or mixed into a classic cocktail like the Vesper, Lillet is endlessly versatile. Its blanc expression is made with a base of wine fermented from Bordeaux grapes (primarily sémillon and sauvignon blanc), then fortified with sugar, fruit, cinchona, and other ingredients. The gently sweet and floral French aperitif is aged in oak barrels for up to one year, and often employed in cocktails for the juicy and aromatic qualities it lends. 

Lillet Blanc as we know it today is a relatively recent innovation. In 1887, in the French town of Pondensac, brothers Paul and Raymond Lillé developed a different product called Kina Lillet, using a proprietary recipe that included fortified wine and quinine. The aromatized wine grew in popularity throughout Europe in the 1920s thanks to a concerted advertising campaign, and soon began to appear in classic cocktails like the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and 20th Century.

In 1986, the company’s new owners altered Lillet’s original recipe to reduce the amount of quinine and create a lighter, less bitter, and fruitier version that would suit modern palates. Kina had already been dropped from the name to de-emphasize its image as a quinine-centered drink, and Lillet came to be colloquially known as Lillet Blanc, to differentiate it from the brand’s red wine-based Lillet Rouge bottling. 

Today, the producer continues to offer Lillet Rouge, created from a base of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and Lillet Rosé, which debuted in 2012 and also uses merlot and cabernet sauvignon. But Lillet Blanc remains the most popular, showcasing the versatility of its white Bordeaux base through honeyed, fruity, and floral notes. 

With an ABV of 17%, Lillet Blanc is higher in alcohol than a standard glass of wine, but lower than many heavier fortified wines. When sipped solo, it’s best served chilled, and is often consumed neat or on the rocks with an orange slice. You can also combine equal parts Lillet Blanc and soda water to make a simple Lillet Spritz, or use tonic water to help recreate some of the original recipe’s more prominent quinine notes. In cocktails, Lillet Blanc is typically added where wine-based modifiers like vermouth may be used, lending a juicy quality and gently floral, bittersweet flavor to drinks. 

Here are 10 delicious ways to use a bottle of Lillet Blanc, from classics like the Vesper and Corpse Reviver No. 2 to inventive new recipes.

  • Vesper

    Vesper / Tim Nusog

    James Bond’s drink of choice may be the most famous example of a Lillet cocktail. “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,” the secret agent famously states in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale

    However, a modern Vesper isn’t quite what Fleming envisioned, with Kina Lillet having been discontinued for decades. The reformulated Lillet Blanc instead lends a softer, less bitter profile to this Martini variation, when paired alongside the drink’s vodka and gin. While a modern-day Vesper is lovely in its own right, some bartenders find that using gentian liqueur Cocchi Americano creates a version that is truer to the original flavor profile. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Corpse Reviver No. 2

    Corpse Reviver No. 2 cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This citrusy and refreshing pre-Prohibition drink combines gin, Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, and fresh lemon juice in an absinthe-rinsed glass. Although the loose offshoot of the Corpse Reviver No. 1 (cognac, Calvados, sweet vermouth) was reportedly first recorded in Harry Craddock’s seminal 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the recipe was resuscitated in the early 2000s, as bartenders looked to old-school bar manuals for cocktail inspiration. 

    Get the recipe.

  • White Negroni

    White Negroni / Tim Nusog

    This bittersweet combination was invented in 2001 by British bartender Wayne Collins at VinExpo, a beverage trade show in Bordeaux, France. He replaces the traditional Negroni’s sweet vermouth with Lillet Blanc, and swaps out Campari for gentian liqueur Suze, rendering a lighter and slightly floral version of the gin-based classic.

    Get the recipe.

  • 20th Century

    20th Century Cocktail / Tim Nusog

    This gently rich Corpse Reviver No. 2 riff was purportedly created by British bartender C.A. Tuck in honor of the 20th Century Limited passenger train that ran between New York City and Chicago. Creme de cacao takes the place of orange liqueur, adding a touch of sweetness and subtle notes of chocolate.

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • Scarlet Spritz

    Scarlet Spritz / Tim Nusog

    This fruity and floral twist on the Aperol Spritz from bartender Brandon Lockman combines strawberry-infused Aperol, Lillet Blanc, rhubarb bitters, and sparkling wine in an absinthe-rinsed glass. The result: a lively and low-proof drink. 

    Get the recipe.

  • White Sangria

    White Sangria / Tim Nusog

    Sangria usually calls for a red wine base, sometimes bolstered by orange liqueur, but this crisp variation swaps in a dry white wine and Lillet Blanc. Fresh peach and apple slices play off the floral and fruity notes of the aromatized wine, and club soda adds effervescence. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Necromancer

    Necromancer cocktail / Tim Nusog

    If you’ve already stocked up Corpse Reviver No. 2 ingredients, this anise-forward riff from bartender Mayur Subbarao is an easy switch. The same portion of Lillet Blanc remains, but he employs absinthe as a base ingredient, adding just a dash of gin and swapping orange for elderflower liqueur. 

    Get the recipe.

  • C&B Old Fashioned

    C&B Old Fashioned cocktail / Tim Nusog

    The name of this gin-based Old Fashioned variation from distiller Allen Katz comes from its use of Campari and Benedictine, an Italian red bitter and a French herbal liqueur. Katz then adds Lillet Blanc and Cointreau, and tops his creation with soda water to temper its intensity. The resulting cocktail is strongly-flavored yet perfectly balanced. 

    Get the recipe.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • Killer Queen

    Killer Queen cocktail / Tim Nusog

    For this stirred drink, bar pro Robin Wolf infuses Lillet Blanc with dried rose petals, heightening its floral aspects. She combines the infused Lillet with gin, Benedictine, and Angostura bitters to make a lovely and aromatic Martini variation. 

    Get the recipe.

  • Hawksmoor Apple Martini

    Hawskmoor Apple Martini

    Hawskmoor NYC

    This crisp and refreshing cocktail is a modern update to the oft-maligned, saccharine-sweet emblem of 1990s drinking culture. Hawksmoor NYC beverage manager Adam Montgomerie combines apple and pear eaux de vie, blanc verjus, Lillet Blanc, and a malic acid mixture, which contributes a slight tartness and richness.

    Get the recipe.