Ingredient Intelligence

What Is Lillet?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Target)

The moment summer hits, my routine tends to involve rosé and icy gin and tonics. There’s just something about the sunny weather that makes me crave happy hour drinks a whole lot more often. While those have long been my go-tos, this year there’s a new bottle that’s been getting equal, if not more, playtime: Lillet.

For some, Lillet isn’t anything new, as it’s been around for a good long while. Yet, I’d only tried it a handful of times out at bars and never bothered to add it to my collection. Now the French aperitif wine will have a permanent place on my bar cart until fall hits. Here’s why — and why it deserves a spot on your bar cart too!

Lillet Is the Drink Your Summer Happy Hour Is Missing

If you’re not already familiar with Lillet, here’s what you need to know. It’s a French aromatized wine, similar to vermouth, that’s made with grapes from Bordeaux and flavored with herbs, spices, and citrus, and fortified — which means the ABV is increased — with citrus liqueur. It clocks in at 17% ABV, so it’s stronger than wine but less boozy than spirits, and is meant to be enjoyed as a pre-dinner aperitif. The original formula contained quinine — the bitter compound found in tonic water that was once used to treat malaria — but it was removed in 1985. That makes the current formula lighter and more citrusy (read: perfect for summer).

The most classic Lillet is Lillet Blanc, which is made white grapes. It’s got honeyed citrus and floral notes with just a bit of an herbal kick. There’s also Lillet Rosé and Lillet Rouge. When I am not enjoying the classic, I love the Rosé because there’s some juicy berry flavors added to the situation. Plus, drinking pink is always a win in my book.

My Favorite Warm Weather Apertif: Lillet on Ice (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

How to Enjoy Lillet

You can sip Lillet on its own, over ice, but my favorite way to enjoy it, no matter the variety, is on the rocks, topped off with club soda or tonic water and a wedge of a lemon, lime, or orange. I’ve also added a splash to my gin and tonic when I am being indecisive, and I think it would be lovely mixed with sparkling wine like Prosecco. It can also be used in a number of classic cocktails, too, like the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Vesper Martini, but I prefer my summer sips to be as light, simple, and refreshing as possible, so I make it easy on myself.

Have you tried Lillet? How do you like to enjoy it?