What is Lillet Blanc? And why people love it so much

By Timo Torner / Last updated on December 23, 2022

Summer is Lillet Blanc season. The French fortified wine is the main element in many new summer cocktails. But why has it become so popular? And why do so many people love it in cocktails?
Lillet Blanc eperitif

Lillet Blanc has been around for a long time already, but it took a while until it made its way on the summer bar menus. 

The sweet and aromatic aperitif from France is a delight when sipped neat or on the rocks, but it also works sublimely in cocktails.

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about Lillet and how you can use it to create delicious summer drinks at home.

What is Lillet Blanc?

Lillet company has been producing aromatized and fortified aperitif wines since 1887. Their products are made of 85% wine from the Bordeaux region and 15% macerated liqueurs

These liquors are usually citrus-based, made of orange peels from Morocco and Spain. The resulting aperitif wine is slightly stronger than your usual wine, with 17% alcohol by volume.

Semillon grapes wineyard

Currently, there are three different Lillets on the market: BlancRouge, and Rosé, with Lillet Blanc being the bestseller and best-known. This white version is based on a wine made of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes

The citrus liqueur and the addition of herbs, spices, and citrus create a pleasant, easy-to-drink fortified wine that is the perfect base for light summer drinks.

History of Lillet Blanc

The two brothers, Raymond and Paul Lillet, did invent Lillet Blanc. They got the idea to make a white aperitif wine from a doctor who traveled to Brazil for Louis XIV, where he was introduced to quinine. 

Kina Lillet

On returning to Bordeaux years later, he started making liqueurs from the bark of the cinchona tree. 

These so-called tonic wines became quite popular as people soon declared them to be the most healthy and hygienic beverage to drink at the time. -And that probably wasn't far from the truth, considering we're talking about the time of smallpox, typhus, and the pestilence.

In 1872, the Lillet brothers founded their company La Maison Lillet in a small village Podensac in Bordeaux. Merely 15 years later, they started producing a wine with the name Kina Lillet.

Kina Lillet label

At this time aperitifs were known to be of red color, and their Lillet was standing out. As you might have guessed from the name, Kina Lillet contained the popular ingredient quinine.

Lillet soon became famous beyond the French borders. In the roaring Twenties, Paul and Raymond exported their product to other European countries and to Africa, and it soon became a success with New York's high society.

Kina Lillet becomes Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc

In the 1970s, the grandson of the Lillet brothers removed the Kina and rebranded the product to Lillet only. Kina had become a generic term for beverages containing quinine and seemed superfluous.

Furthermore, in the 1980s, the formula for Lillet was changed to improve its taste and quality. Quinine and sugar levels were reduced a lot. That is also why vintage cocktail recipes with Lillet often need some adjustments.

The Blanc in the name was added when Lillet wanted to capitalize on the fact that many people still preferred red aperitifs over white ones. Consequently, they introduced Lillet Rouge in the 1960s and followed it up with Lillet Rose in 2011.

Lillet, the perfect ingredient for Spritz cocktails

The fresh and floral taste of Lillet Blanc and its low alcohol content makes it an excellent choice for low-ABV summer drinks. 

You can drink it on the rocks or top it off with club soda or tonic water to lower the amount of alcohol by volume even more.

Lillet Spritz

It also tastes superb when made into a Spritz Cocktail. Those Spritz drinks are easy to make, refreshing, and also a perfect drink to enjoy with friends on a summer evening. You only need Lillet Blanc, soda water, and Prosecco.

Other Cocktails with Lillet blanc

There are also more classic cocktail recipes for which you can use Lillet. 

A great example of this is a Vesper Martini, a drink known from film and tv, created by Bond author Ian Fleming. It consists of Vodka, Gin, and Lillet Blanc, you can produce an amazing, full-bodied, and well-balanced Vesper Martini.

White Negroni Cocktail

Another delightful example of using Lillet Blanc in cocktails is the White Negroni cocktail. This simple three-ingredient drink is made of Lillet Blanc, Suze, and Plymouth Gin. A simple yet elegant composition with a strong herbal taste.

Or how about a Necromancer Cocktail? Despite its dark name, it's quite a refined and fresh drink with Absinthe, elderflower, Gin, and Lillet. 

Infused Lillet Blanc

The mix of sweetness, citrus, slight bitterness, and floral-herbal notes make Lillet Blanc extremely versatile. Yet, you can make it even more flavorsome. 

Try to infuse it with herbs like rosemary or chamomile. The result will bring an even more pronounced aroma to your summer cocktails. 

You can also get creative and experiment with creating your own favorite Lillet infusions. The delicate flavors, the alcohol, and the relatively high amount of sugar make it a gorgeous base for infusions.

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