The Quest for Kina Lillet

There are different types of “Lost Ingredients.”

Some are just gone. They are no longer made. The Pomelo flavored “Forbidden Fruit” liqueur is one of those. The only way to get a liqueur like this is to try to make it yourself.

Some “Lost Ingredients” are still made, but only distributed in relatively small geographic areas, making them difficult to come by. “Swedish Punsch” is one of these. Almost the only way to get it is to travel to Sweden, (or make it yourself.)

The third type of “Lost Ingredient” is the one which is still made, but whose recipe has changed so significantly that it no longer resembles the ingredient which would have been called for in a classic cocktail. In some ways these are the worst. It’s like they are taunting you.

Lillet is one of these. In the 1980s, the company which manufactures it decided to re-tool their “Kina Lillet” product’s flavor to keep up with the times. According to their, (strangely informative,) website, the product was renamed “Lillet Blanc” and made, “fresher, fruitier, and less bitter.” Well, that is OK, unless the cocktail you are making with it is depending on it being relatively sweet and somewhat bitter.

To backup a bit and explain what Lillet actually is… Lillet is a fortified wine flavored with spices and bittered, like Tonic Water, with Quinine. The name for this type of fortified wine is “Quinquina.” Both Lillet and Dubonnet are Quinquinas, along with other more obscure ones, like St. Raphael.

Cocktail enthusiasts have suggested various ways of getting around Lillet’s reformulation. From adding Quinine powder directly to your drink to creating a quinine tincture and doctoring your Lillet with it.

For a while a cheery bottle had been crowing to me from the aperitif shelf of my local liquor store.

Cocchi Americano.

Cocchi Americano.

How can you resist a label like that? Eventually, I gave in and bought a bottle of Cocchi Aperitivo Americano, not really knowing what to expect. There wasn’t much information about it in on the web or on the bottle.

When I opened it, I was interested to discover it was similar to Lillet Blanc, except sweeter, spicier, and more bitter. The flavors were primarily cinnamon and citrus, with a pronounced and lingering Quinine aftertaste. I started to get a bit excited. Maybe I wouldn’t have to make a Quinine tincture after all.

Some cocktail experimentation followed, and I discovered nearly every classic cocktail which called for Kina Lillet was head and shoulders better with the Cocchi Aperitivo Americano, than it was with Lillet Blanc. The Corpse Reviver No. 2, which had previously not really thrilled me, was astoundingly eye opening. As was the Culross Cocktail. Even the Vesper, which had been perfectly fine with Lillet Blanc, seemed to perk up with that little bitter touch in the finish.

I presented the Cocchi Americano to some friends. They were a bit less enthusiastic. “Tastes like warm Vermouth,” they said. Perhaps I should have chilled the bottle. I went on to them, as I am wont, about the subtle citrus notes, and bracing Quinine aftertaste. Still not much interest. Somewhat disheartened, I presented my findings on eGullet. Apparently, my enthusiasm was enough to convince at least one person to try it. Fortunately, that one person was also able to try it against a well preserved bottle of vintage Kina Lillet, and pronounced, “The Cocchi Aperitivo Americano comes close to the “bitter” (kina) Lillet”.


A few more people have tried the Apertivo Americano since, and all agree that it makes a superior Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Warm Spinach Salad with Lentils and Feta

When I used to work at the Westside Bakery Cafe in Berkeley, CA, one of my favorite lunch items was a warm spinach salad with lentils and feta.

You’ll need: 1 cup of lentils, an onion or two, a carrot, a can of tomatoes, some garlic, a bunch of spinach, feta cheese, bay leaf, thyme, a nice vinegar and olive oil.

Chop a half a carrot and a half an onion and briefly saute in olive oil. Add a bay leaf and the seasonings of your choice. I actually used Herb de Provence this time. Zatar would be another cool choice. To this add 1 cup of lentils and two cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from the heat.

Chop an onion and as much garlic as you like. Briefly saute in olive oil, add oregano, thyme, or other herbs of your choice. I’m the sort of person who can’t make a tomato sauce without adding crushed red chiles. You may not be. Then add the tomatoes from a can of Roma tomatoes. Cook until sauce-like, and adjust seasonings.

We really like this mildly flavored and buttery olive oil from Bariani.

Pick a tasty wine. This was an Italian wine we got when we belonged to the Bonny Doon “Dewn” wine club. Its exact name escapes me at the moment.

Wash the spinach, dry, and place in a big bowl. Crumble the feta cheese into the bowl over the spinach. If you have leftover grilled or roasted chicken, like us, this is another nice addition.

Check the seasonings of your tomato sauce and stir in a bit of decent vinegar. I used the Balsamic style vinegar from Bariani. Add the warm lentils to the tomatoes and stir together. Pour the tomato and lentil mixture over your spinach and feta, and toss.

Warm bread or Pita bread is a good accompaniment. This is the sourdough whole wheat bread from the Arizmendi Bakery. I really like it. They use a great sourdough starter they got from their sister bakery, the Cheese Board in Berkeley. The bread has a wonderful smell like new mown hay.

OK, it’s not the prettiest meal in the world, but it is very tasty and quick to prepare.

Knockin’ on Death’s Door

Last year some Wisconsin friends sent me an article about a new vodka from a company called Death’s Door Spirits. I was intrigued, mostly because it sounded like the company was distilling the base for its vodka themselves from locally grown wheat.

Later we found out that Death’s Door was also going to produce a gin.

I was even more intrigued at that point and sent them a note asking if they were also distilling the base for their gin from wheat.

The answer was even more interesting.

It turns out, Death’s Door is the brainchild of a couple of sustainable agriculture geeks. The whole point of their enterprise, along with making enough money for a living, is to keep sustainable agriculture alive on a small island in Lake Michigan called, “Washington Island.”

Initially thinking of producing a line of gourmet flours and grains, they hit upon the brainstorm of instead turning the particular grain grown on Washington Island into Beer and Vodka.

Their first product, Island Wheat, brewed by Capital Brewery in Madison, Wisconsin, was a smashing success. “Local” plays big in Wisconsin, and the beer is a fine, accessible wheat beer.

They then turned their attention to spirits. They brew a flat wheat beer at Capital Brewing, then ship it to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where it is distilled into Vodka. This again was a success, with them barely able to keep up with demand for the product. Their second spirits venture, Death’s Door Gin, not only sources the wheat from Washington Island, but also many of the botanicals used to flavor the gin. Interestingly, it was created with the help of the chef at the Washington Island Hotel, Restaurant, and Culinary School. It is a mild flavored, traditional style Gin. I would compare it to a Jonge Genever, though the wheat base gives it a much different character than the malted barley used to make Genever. The gin has also been a success, with them, surprisingly, shipping nearly as much Gin to their outlets as vodka.

Their newest venture, a single malt unaged wheat whiskey has a lot of people talking. They have begun sending out samples, and hope to get it to market later this year. I’ve no idea what to expect from an unaged Wheat Whiskey, but can’t wait to try it. They are also working on opening a second distillery in Madison, Wisconsin, so they can call their Whiskey,Vodka, and Gin 100% Wisconsin-made products.

Given the small size of the operation, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll run across any of the Death’s Door products any time in the very near future, but if you do get to Wisconsin or Illinois, be sure to check them out. It’s a cool company run by a group of decent, sincere idealists, who are producing some very interesting products and at the same time making a real difference by supporting local, sustainable agriculture.

Apple Jack (Special) Cocktail

Apple Jack (Special) Cocktail

2/3 Applejack. (2 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy)
1/6 Grenadine. (1/2 oz home made Grenadine*)
1/6 Lemon Juice. (1/2 oz Lemon Juice)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

The Apple Jack (Special) Cocktail almost falls within what I would call “free pour error” of the nominally drier Jack Rose (in the Savoy the Jack Rose is: Juice of 1/2 lemon or whole lime, 1/4 Grenadine, 3/4 Apple Jack). Tasty stuff. Homemade Grenadine, fresh lemon juice, and the Bonded Apple Jack make a world of difference in this cocktail. Yum.

*1 Cup Pomegranate Juice (Knudsen Just Pomegranate)
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Pomegranate Concentrate
1/4 Cup Vodka

Combine sugar with juice and shake until dissolved. Add Pomegranate Concentrate and Vodka.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Apple Jack Cocktail

Apple Jack Cocktail

1 Dash Angostura Bitters.
1/2 Italian Vermouth. (1 1/2 oz Cinzano Sweet Vermouth)
1/2 Calvados. (1 1/2 oz Laird’s 100 proof Bonded Apple Brandy*)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Seemed wrong to make the “Apple Jack Cocktail” with Calvados instead of Apple Jack. Downright unamerican, even! Oh, and forgive my feeble attempt at an apple twist garnish. That was just a bad idea. The previous simple thin horizontal slice of apple was much better.

This is a quite nice cocktail. You’d probably have to order it as an “Apple Jack Manhattan” to get it at a bar today. But, if you like Manhattans, it’s a good change of pace from the usual Rye or Bourbon.

*Laird & Company is a great old American company whose family has been making Apple Spirits for longer than there has been a United States of America. They make several Apple Jack and Apple Brandy products. The one you are most likely to see is their 80 proof “Apple Jack.” This product is made by blending Apple Brandy with Neutral Spirits. It’s OK. It really is more of a blended Whisky (think Canadian) than a true fruit brandy. I don’t believe they started making the blended product until some time after prohibition, so when you see “Apple Jack” called for in an older recipe, it is better to stick with a 100% Apple Brandy, like Laird’s 100 Proof Apple Brandy, another American Apple Brandy, or Calvados.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Apple Cocktail

Apple Cocktail
(6 People)
Take 2 glasses of sweet Cider (2 oz Martinelli’s Cider), 1 Glass Gin (1 oz. Beefeater’s), 1 Glass of Brandy (1 oz Korbel VSOP Brandy) and 2 glasses of Calvados (2 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Jack). Shake and serve. (Garnish with thin horizontal slices of tart, green apple.)

Note: This is the cocktail doctors hate to recommend.

The above volume recommendations are for two cocktails. Be nice to go with a nice tart cider. Something with a little more spine than the Martinelli’s. If you have to use a mild apple juice style cider, a dash of lemon wouldn’t hurt. In any case, a tasty cocktail, and the apple slice was a nice addition which added a tasty booze soaked treat to the end of the cocktail.

Caution: Over enthusiastic consumption of this potent pomme potation may result in tawdry, if not downright original, sin.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.


A trip to Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley turned up some nice finds: North Shore Distillery Gin No. 6 (Hi Sonja!) Fee’s Grapefruit Bitters, Coruba Dark Jamaican Rum. But, coolest of all, they had a number of Rodenbach Beers.

Now I know Rodenbach has been making an effort to re-establish itself in the US, but I don’t think that it is currently distributed in Northern California, so I was quite excited to see it.

Rodenbach is a Flemish Sour Ale. If you were to blind taste test it, you’d probably wonder if it was a beer at all. You might think it was a tart cider, or perhaps some sort of sparkling wine. Light in body and dry in the finish, these complex beers are often love ’em or hate ’em propositions. I love ’em, myself.

From this label, you can see a portion of the beer is aged in oak, and then blended with fresh beer before being bottled. The interesting beasties and flavors of the oak contribute to the beer. We’ve talked about Brett (Brettanomyces) before and it is definitely present here. With its wine-like character, Rodenbach is a great food beer. I just hope we’ll see this wonderful brand more widely available in California soon. I hate to drive across that pesky Bay Bridge, and well, even worse, up the vehicle clogged nightmare that is University Avenue in Berkeley.

On to dinner… I baked some apples with brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and lemon zest for dessert.

Marinated some Chicken with crushed peppercorns, garlic, lemon and olive oil (Pollo alla Diavola).

Apples looking tasty…

Mmmm… Rodenbach, served with cheese and pickles.

Convection roasted Chicken is done. Served it with leftover vegetables and potatoes from last Monday’s Pot Roast.

Another wine we picked up on our trip to Paso Robles wine last year. Dover Canyon Old Vine Zinfandel. Delicious stuff.

Apples and ice cream.

Appetiser Cocktail

Appetiser Cocktail

1/2 Gin. (1 1/2 oz Beefeater Gin)
1/2 Dubonnet. (1 1/2 oz Dubonnet Rouge)
The Juice of 1/2 Orange.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This was OK; but, I liked it better with a dash or two of Angostura bitters, (which, in the world of the Savoy, probably makes it a different drink). It’s not as “dangerously drinkable” as some modern mixed drinks; but it does seem like one of those drinks that make it seem like you’re not really having something with hard liquor in it. Then all of a sudden you’ve swilled three in quick succession and you’re pretty drunk. At least you’re getting your Vitamin C!

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Pot Roast Pasta

My actual favorite part of pot roast or another braised meat, is to make pasta from the leftovers. Chop yourself a half an onion and some garlic.

Saute them briefly in olive oil.

Deglaze with wine and add canned tomatoes and cook until sauce-like. Add the beef and whatever pan gravy you have to the tomato sauce. Check the seasonings.

Boil some pasta.

I’m sure there are many fine pastas in the world. I’ve been using DeCecco dry pasta for years now and it’s my favorite.

Pull the pasta and add it to the sauce. If you need to loosen it up, add some pasta water. Serve with a nice red wine.

We got this one on a recent trip to Paso Robles. It was a very dark Syrah, almost like a Petit Syrah in character. Quite reasonable, and not over oaked, with dark berry flavors.

Apparent Cocktail

Apparent Cocktail

1/2 Dry Gin (1 1/2 oz Beefeater’s Gin)
1/2 Dubonnet (1 1/2 oz Dubonnet Rouge)
1 Dash Absinthe. (1/4 tsp. Absinthe Verte de Fougerolles)

Shake (stir, please) well and strain into cocktail glass. (Twist orange peel over glass.)

Not all gins are as happy being mixed with Absinthe as others. Experimentation has led me to the conclusion that Beefeater’s is definitely “Absinthe Friendly”.

In regards Dubonnet, there are two varieties available, as there are of Lillet. According to Ted Haigh’s book, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” when mixing classic cocktails, always choose Dubonnet Rouge and Lillet Blanc. Advice I have stuck with. I don’t know about the details of Dubonnet product history, but in the case of Lillet it is easy. Lillet Rouge wasn’t manufactured until the 1960s, so couldn’t possibly have been used in cocktails of the 1930s.

This is actually quite a pleasant cocktail as written. However, I felt like it needed a little extra zip, so added the orange twist. Yum, even better!

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.