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Lillet Tomlin – Reformulating an old cocktail

The CSOWG‘s Thursday Drink Night (hosted in that wretched hive of scum and villainy delightful online chat room called The Mixoloseum Bar) on May 27, 2010 featured a sponsored product that may have escaped your attention — Mandarine Napoléon.

According to its producers, this French liqueur was originally created by Antoine-François de Fourcroy (1755-1809), Napoléon Bonaparte’s personal physician. Mandarines grew well on the isle of Corsica, the Emperor’s birthplace, and supposedly it was de Fourcroy who first macerated mandarine peels in strong alcohol, distilled the maceration and blended it with aged Cognac. The Emperor was so taken with the product that he often invited his physician to share a glass with him. Mandarine Napoléon was first bottled in 1892, and until very recently was still owned by the de Fourcroy family. De Kuyper, the Dutch producer of liqueurs and genevers, bought the product from the de Fourcroys about 9 months ago. However, according to a recent article in CLASS magazine, the Belgian distillery that’s produced the spirit base for the product since 1998 continues to do so, distilling the mandarine peels and botanicals, all of which is “sent to De Kuyper’s production facility for blending and bottling.”

The process is more or less the same as it’s always been– maceration of mandarine peels from Sicily and Spain in grain alcohol, distillation of the result, resting in vats for two years, sweetening and blending with various Cognacs with at least 6 years of age. The result is a deep, delicious liqueur at 77 proof, sweet but not cloying, and a strong mandarine flavor. It’s one of the best citrus liqueurs out there, and deserves some of the attention given to Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

Mandarine Napoléon’s public relations folks kindly sponsored a TDN and encouraged us to experiment, resulting in a number of really tasty cocktails. I, of course, lazy bastard that I am, decided to fall back on an existing cocktail of mine, because it so happened that I had already created a cocktail containing this liqueur. I had to stick with it, because it’s probably the best cocktail name I’ve ever come up with. (C’mon, a pun that doesn’t make you groan? That actually makes you laugh! Such a rarity!)

I hadn’t had one in a while, though I remember it being well-received by folks I had made it for at the time. Perhaps the most memorable fan is a friend of mine who might not be who you’d typically picture when you think of someone quaffing a cocktail made of Belgian liqueur and French apéritif wine — a country & Western bandleader, songwriter and guitar player (and a damned good one too). He came over with some friends one night, fell in love with this drink and quaffed them all evening long. Still, I thought it needed another look, just in case; I whipped one up to revisit and evaluate before submission.


Sure, still tasty. But it was sweet. Definitely sweeter than is our taste in cocktails these days (although perhaps not so much 10 years ago, when I came up with it.) Not quite balanced. Needed a little rejiggering.

Here’s the old post I wrote way back in September of 2000, talking about how I came up with the drink (and, as I recall, it’s the first cocktail I came up with on my own, albeit one that sprang from another):

Consider the Lillets…


(Stop groaning. It’s only going to get worse from here.)

Wes and I were browsing yesterday at a nifty antique shop and, naturally, stopped to peruse the barware section. They had a book on vintage barware, and in it was a recipe for a cocktail that sounded fascinating, and not only because I loved the name — the Tiger Lillet.

Lillet Blanc is, of course, the French aperitif white wine with hints of citrus and spice, and I’m quite fond of it. The recipe they printed didn’t quite add up, though — it called for 1/3 Lillet, 1/3 Van der Hum (a South African tangerine liqueur based on brandy) and 1/6 “Maraschino syrup”. Hmm. That’s only 5/6 of a drink. And what do they mean by Maraschino syrup? Do they mean Maraschino liqueur, or the thin sweet “juice” that the maraschino cherries come in? Was there a cocktail flavoring product back then that was a low- or no-alcohol cherry syrup? Despite this hole in the recipe, I thought the drink sounded very promising.

The web to the rescue! I found a site that had a more complete recipe which stated, as did the book, that the drink was the winner of the World Cocktail Championship in London in 1952, and was created by a barman named Mr. J. Jones (now that’s an unusual name). Here’s the actual recipe:

Tiger Lillet

1/3 Lillet.
1/3 Van der Hum.
1/6 Dry Vermouth.
1/6 Maraschino.

Shake and Strain. Serve with small piece of Orange Peel.

BZZZZZT! The dry vermouth just killed it for me. I do not like vermouth of any kind. I do not like it in a bar, I do not like it in a car. I do not like it in my drink; tastes quite nasty, that I think.

(Good gods … can you believe I actually said that. I used to hate vermouth. Well, in 2000 I was a toddler as far as fine and historic cocktails were concerned, and I think that at the time I was suffering from the same thing most people who think they hate vermouth suffer from — they’re drinking vermouth that has gotten old and gone bad. Ah, the things that change in ten years … in fact, fortunately for me, only a couple of years later I was quaffing vermouth-bearing cocktails with glee.) Now, back to the past:

So … how to go about changing this drink to suit my taste? Well, for starters, in all my digging through the two finest wine and spirits shops in Los Angeles, I’d never once seen Van der Hum liqueur. Fortunately, right there in my bar cabinet is a bottle of Mandarine Napoléon, another tangerine liqueur that’s based on brandy, which I thought would make an excellent substitute.

Another aside — it turned out that there is a “Maraschino syrup” product out there, the most widely-available of which is made by the Reese company, who’ve made some of the viler jarred products I’ve been unfortunately enough to buy in the supermarket. It’s artificially colored bright red, presumably a thicker version of the syrup in the horried neon red “maraschino” supermarket cherries — the use of which we’ve eschewed for years — and therefore vile. It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Jones used maraschino liqueur and not a syrup. Continuing with the old post:

We’re also fine for the maraschino — I love Liquore de Maraschino, and I have a bottle of Luxardo’s fine product right there in my bar.

Now, to replace the vermouth. For a 3-ounce drink, I’m really only substituting one tablespoon’s worth of liquor. I think the 1/3 Lillet content takes care of the aperitif wine flavor without adding more from vermouth, so I thought a bit about what might complement the flavor of both the Lillet and the Mandarine Napoléon. Cointreau and Grand Marnier were out, because I thought we had the citrus flavor covered. How ’bout … Cognac? Hmmmmm. Complimentary flavor, keeps it all French (“IT IS BELGIAN!” shrieks Poirot predictably, while sipping a cordial glass of Mandarine Napoléon) and gives it a slight extra kick. I like it. I liked it even better when I mixed one up and drank it last night.

Now, to name the drink. I can’t call it a Tiger Lillet anymore, since one ingredient has changed. That’s one of the cardinal laws of cooking — if you steal a recipe, you can get away with it by changing an ingredient or two, and then changing the name of the dish.

What’s Up, Tiger Lillet? I like Woody Allen, but that’s too close to the original. Calla Lillet? Kate Hepburn might like it, but I dunno… Gilded Lillet? Hrmm. Lillet Munster? Too silly! Lillet of the Valley? Lillet of the Field? Bleuchh. I really didn’t consider Consider The Lillet, either.

Finally, it struck me. I named the drink for someone I’ve really liked for a very long time and whose work has given me a great deal of enjoyment over the years. And that’s the truthhhhhh.

That old recipe called for an ounce each of Lillet and Mandarine Napoléon, and half-ounce each of Cognac and maraschino.

Okay. On the right track. But tooooo sweet.

A little thought, a little rebalancing. We still want to keep the Lillet as a base, but we want to up the Cognac to give it more backbone. Mandarine Napoléon is good, but a whole ounce of it was too much and lets a candylike sweetness creep forward. Back that off by a half an ounce, and back off the maraschino too. That should be there to help the fruit and Cognac flavors blend and round out, not to add any more sweetness. I decided to switch to the drier Croatian Maraska brand rather than the more powerful (and sweeter) Italian brand Luxardo. Finally, a dash of bitters for spice, edge and brightness.

Y’know, the flavor profile is pretty much the same, but this is a far superior drink, in my overly cocky– er, humble opinion. Consider the Lillet … reformulated.


1-1/2 ounces Cognac.
1 ounce Lillet.
1/2 ounce Mandarine Napoléon.
1/4 ounce Maraska maraschino liqueur.
1-2 dash(es) Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with a strip of orange peel, expressed over the glass and rubbed upon the rim. Garnish additionally with two ringy-dingys and serve to the party to whom you are speaking.


TDN Kahlúa: Levez-Vous

I know, the edition of Thursday Drink Night (brought to you by the CSOWG and the Mixoloseum Bar chat room) sponsored by the good folks at Kahlúa was supposed to be three weeks ago, on April 29. Turns out it had to be postponed, even though I had scheduled a post to go up during my Jazzfest vacation. No TDN that night after all, but hey, a very tasty coffee liqueur cocktail recipe went up.

This time I had some time to think and prepare, and was able to offer an original drink. There was a bit more incentive this time, as our sponsor added this to the fray:

The “Kahlúa Brunch Drink Challenge” — submit your hot or cold (but not blended, please) “Kahlúa Brunch Drink” idea during this TDN and a panel of both marketing and mixology experts will choose one to be featured at a Tales of the Cocktail coffee bar. To find out which drink was chosen, just show up to the coffee bar Wednesday morning of Tales — the selected drink will be credited, of course, and will be available each morning, Wednesday-Saturday.

Sheesh. We’re not going to make it to Tales this year, so if I win I won’t even get to serve my drink. Hrmph. Oh well … whether I win or not, I’m still happy with the drink. My idea was a cold eye-opener that still had a coffee kick. I included Kahlúa as per the rules but added cold brewed coffee to extend the coffee flavor without additional sweetness (New Orleans-style coffee & chicory is, of course, preferred). The rye and brandy base make for a good New Orleans drink too, with a little bitter orange edge from the Torani Amer plus that dash of the newly-resurrected 1934-style Herbsaint Original (a nod to my Italian music teacher in high school, who was fond of a slug of anisette in his coffee).

The rye I used was Sazerac (“Baby Saz,” the 6-year) and the Cognac was Pierre Ferrant 1er Cru du Cognac Ambre, which is a 10-year (substitute any good VSOP). The photo … is nonexistent, ’cause I actually had two drinks to work on last night and I was too lazy to set anything up. You can probably imagine what it looks like. (Maybe I’ll edit the post later on and add one, but for now … sorry.)


1-1/2 ounces Sazerac Rye
1/2 ounce Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
1/2 ounce Kahlúa
1/2 ounce cold brewed coffee
1/2 ounce Torani Amer
2 dashes Legendre Herbsaint Original
1 dash Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
Orange peel

Combine ingredients with ice in a mixing glass and stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a 6-ounce cocktail coupe and garnish with the orange peel after expressing the oil and rubbing it on the rim.

Wes remarked that he didn’t see a brown drink as particularly “brunchy,” but people drink coffee or coffee-based drinks at brunch, don’t they? Anyway, I wouldn’t complain if you insisted on a splash of cream, but I like it this way.


Hey, careful man, there’s a beverage here!

If you’ve wondered what to do with coffee liqueur other than put it in your coffee or defend the integrity of your White Russian as The Dude so memorably did, here’s another idea. In fact, you may get several tonight.

Yes folks, it’s another Thursday Drink Night, starting right now in that wretched hive of sum and villainy delightful chat room called The Mixoloseum Bar. Our sponsor this evening is Kahlúa coffee liqueur, who sponsored us last year with their limited edition holiday release Kahlúa Cream. From 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern until midnight/3am various bartenders, cocktail nerds and assorted smartasses will gather to make original cocktails featuring Kahlúa, critique them (and quite likely, make rude remarks about one another’s mothers). You are more than welcome to join the fray.

Alas, I won’t be participating tonight, as tonight I’m still back home in New Orleans, getting ready to leave the Fair Grounds after the final performace of today’s Jazz and Heritage Festival (I think it’ll be Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, or else Bobby Lonero’s tribute to Louis Prima with Johnny Pennino and the New Orleans Express, or perhaps Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole) and then heading to dinner at Le Foret. And as I had to prepare this post several days in advance, before leaving for NOLA, I was far too lazy to come up with something original.

Better still is something from a couple of terrific bars.

My friend Damian Windsor made me a lovely cocktail at The Roger Room which I thought was one of his, but he told me it came from Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco. It features the somewhat unlikely combination of Bourbon, coffee liqueur (they use Tia Maria, but we’ll use Kahlúa tonight) and orange bitters. Y’know what? It works, really well. The orange plays off the chocolatey notes of the liqueur and gives it a desserty feel without making it overly sweet (one of the banes of cocktaildom, as far as I’m concerned). Lovely after dinner or any other time.

The Revolver Cocktail


2 ounces Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur (Tia Maria or Kahlúa).
2 dashes Fee’s orange bitters.
Orange peel.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass, stir for 30 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange peel after expressing the oil.


TDN Casa Noble Tequila: The Tlaquepaque Cocktail

I managed to make it to another Thursday Drink Night last week, in which cocktail nerds, a few bartenders and occasionally an honored guest such as a distiller converge in The Mixoloseum Bar chat room, discuss that week’s sponsoring spirit or theme, geek out and come up with some new drinks.

Our sponsor last week was Casa Noble Tequila, and we were lucky enough to have José “Pepe” Hermosillo, a founding partner of the distillery, joining us from Jalisco, Mexico (unfortunately, by the time I got home he was just logging off). The samples that were sent out were their blanco tequila, which they call “Crystal” — 100% agave, slow-cooked and only the hearts and cores are used in fermentation. I have yet to try any of their other varieties but I loved the Crystal. It had a rich, profound agave flavor, nicely vegetal and spicy, some black pepper and citrus rind. I don’t normally sip blanco tequila but I enjoyed sipping this one, and it occurs to me that this would make a pretty tasty Improved Tequila Cocktail (not that Jerry Thomas had tequila in the 1860s), which I’ll try next. (It’s also got a pretty bottle, so hush.)

I wanted to play up the vegetal and spice qualities in my original cocktail for the evening, and I was inspired by a terrific drink that Brian Summers of the Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood made for me back when he was at Bar Centro at The Bazaar by José Andres a year and a while ago called the Archangel. That was gin and Aperol with a little cucumber, which was my launching point. I thought cucumber and Aperol would work really well with this tequila.

The Aperol’s low alcohol content smooths out the spirit’s edges and gives a nice, gentle bitterness, and the orange flavor complements the tequila’s citrus notes. I wanted to bring that up a little bit more with the Créole Shrubb without making it too sweet. I also wanted to bump up the bitterness a tiny bit, so I used Cynar, hoping that the artichoke enzyme cynarin would help make the sweet elements taste a bit sweeter without adding more liqueur. It seemed to work pretty well, although it took a bit of tinkering. One barspoon wasn’t enough, two were too many and 1/4 ounce — a barspoon and a half — was just right. The cucumber adds another vegetal element, again gentle, and helps tie everything else together and make them play nicely. I’m really happy with this one, and I think it’d be a good aperitivo for a Mexican meal.

The name comes from a town in Jalisco where my old friend Luie was born. It was near Guadalajara, but the town’s own growth and Guadalajara’s massive growth caused it to be swallowed up by the greater Guadalajara metro area, and it’s now considered a neighborhood of Guadalajara. It’s from the Nahuatl language, sort of pronounced “tlah-kay-PAH-kay,” and it’s really fun to say. Even more fun to drink.



2 ounces Casa Noble Crystal tequila, or other blanco tequila
1 ounce Aperol
1/4 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb
1/4 ounce Cynar
2 slices cucumber, about 1/4″ thick, for muddling
2 thin slices cucumber for garnish

Muddle the cucumber slices in the spirits, add ice and shake 10-12 seconds. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with two thin cucumber slices.


Thursday Drink Night: Trader Tiki’s Syrups

Another Thursday Drink Night is upon us, meaning that … it’s Thursday again. (These things happen.) Meet the CSOWG and various and sundry cocktail geeks at The Mixoloseum Bar (i.e., the cocktail-geekiest online chat venue) at 4pm PT / 7pm ET / 0h GMT for drink-making, insult-hurling and general verbal mayhem.

Tonight will be a fairly special one, however, as one of our own — Blair Reynolds, a.k.a. Trader Tiki — has burst upon the cocktail ingredients scene with his own line of flavoring syrups for tiki cocktails and beyond.

Trader Tiki's Syrups

Let’s taste.

I was very happy when the Tiki Fairy brought these earlier this week, because (among other reasons) I’d been wanting to make orgeat for ages but have been too frakking lazy. Blair’s orgeat is complex, with a rich almond flavor and a bit of tannin and bitterness, where I’m tasting the almond skins as well. Apricot kernels are included in the formula as well, providing that lovely bitter almond flavor in the background without any of the annoying hydrogen cyanide that bitter almonds bring to the table. This is much more complex than the cloudy white brands you see from Monin and the like, and the sweetness is kept in check. Blair favors the original French recipe, calling for rose and orange flower water in the mix. I can’t wait to try this in a Mai Tai, plus classic non-tropical cocktails like the Japanese, and one I found that fascinates me, called the Alligator (time to make some eau de melisse, looks like).

The cinnamon syrup is thick and sweet, flavored with two kinds of cinnamon — the spicy, sweet and strong cassia, and the slightly more mellow Ceylon cinnamon, with a complex, fruity, citrusy flavor (I love sprinkling Ceylon cinnamon on fruit). Perfect for some of the more famous tiki drinks (like a Jet Pilot, mmm) and whatever you can concoct.

The vanilla syrup is just as thick and sweet, with a lovely vanilla bean flavor and would be just as lovely on pancakes as it would in your drinks.

Perhaps the most fascinating flavor he’s released is Don’x Mix, named after Don the Beachcomber (aka Ernest Beaumont Gantt), who in Los Angeles in the 1930s invented the exotic tropical cocktail as we know it. “Don’s Mix” was one of his secret ingredients, mixed and bottled away from the bar and provided to the bartenders so that if one or more of them left to work for a competitor they wouldn’t be able to take his drink recipes with them. A recipe isn’t much use if one of the ingredients is listed as “Mix #6.”

In this case, though, we now know that Don’s Mix was 2 parts grapefruit juice and 1 part cinnamon syrup, used to flavor Donga Punch, Zombies and other tropical drinks. If you don’t want to make your own, this is the perfect solution. Lighter than the regular cinnamon syrup, less sweet and with a really nice tang of grapefruit, this is the one I want to get creative with. I’ve got a couple of ideas for TDN tonight and I’m going to focus on this one. Here’s hoping my drink tastes as good in the glass as it does in my head. (Then again, it might suck, but then we go back to the drawing board.)

So! Needless to say, order some syrup and get your tiki on!

Jeez, I got busy … Thursday Drink Night starts in five minutes!