You’ll have to forgive my recent silence… unfortunately February hasn’t been a great month in many ways and I’ve been busy dissolving the remains of a long-term relationship with the help of a few friends – shopping, chocolate and, er, real friends. However while I haven’t been writing about cocktails all that much I’ve certainly been consuming my fair share so I’ve got plenty of things to talk about, starting with Cocchi Americano. But first let us take a side step and look at Lillet.
The Lillet brothers, Paul and Raymond, started business in 1872 in Podensac near Bordeaux, initially making jams and marmalades before moving on to creating liqueurs, eaux de vie and even Cognac. In 1887 there was a bumper harvest in Bordeaux so the brothers brought up some of the surplus to create an aromatised tonic wine, and so Kina Lillet was born. The recipe was always kept secret, but is known to have used a blend of Bordeaux wines in addition to quinine and eaux de vie of various fruits.
Kina Lillet was very popular during the first half of the twentieth century, however in the later half sales declined and eventually in 1986 the recipe was reformulated, reducing the amount of quinine, in an attempt to have more appeal with modern drinkers. This modern recipe, known at Lillet Blanc, is what is still available today and while it is a perfectly delicious wine-based spirit the flavour of classic Kina Lillet is something of a holy grail for classic cocktail aficionados.
Erik Ellestad, who is currently working his way through every cocktail in the The Savoy Cocktail Book, has long been in search of an equivalent for Kina Lillet and happened across an aperitif called Cocchi Americano in his local off-license. Excited to find it tasted similar to Lillet Blanc only with more spice and bitterness, he shared his findings on eGullet where someone with an original bottle of Kina Lillet compared the two and found them very similar.
When I read of Erik’s findings I immediately searched in hope of finding Cocchi Americano for sale somewhere here in the UK, but alas couldn’t find any mention of it. However, one dull Friday afternoon at work I was idly searching Google when I stumbled across a wine merchant in the UK that had Cocchi Americano on their stock list. Being an on-trade merchant I feared the worst, but with fingers-crossed enquired about purchasing a few bottles. Thankfully a week or so later after a few emails and an exchange of credit card details I was in possession of Cocchi Americano.
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz dry gin
- ¾ shot / 22.5 ml / ¾ oz Cocchi Americano
- ¾ shot / 22.5 ml / ¾ oz sweet vermouth
- Stir all ingredients with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass.
I was delighted to find that the Cocchi does indeed have much in common with Lillet Blanc like the strong orange taste, but with the addition of more bitterness, particularly in the finish, and more spice. I quickly set about trying it in one of my favourite cocktails using Lillet, the Corpse Reviver No. 2, and was amazed. A Corpse Reviver made with Lillet is wonderful, make no mistake, but with Cocchi Americano it was simply sublime.
I’ve since tried it in several other classic cocktails that called for Lillet and each time the drink has been improved with Cocchi. Indeed some drinks, like the lovely Kina cocktail above, only really work properly with Cocchi. Even the Vesper, a drink I was previously thoroughly unimpressed with, I found quite enjoyable with the added bitter depth of this new spirit. I’ve not had the chance to try original Kina Lillet, but whether Cocchi tastes like it or not this is certainly a wonderful spirit to make use of in cocktails.
Sadly at the moment Cocchi Americano is very difficult to get hold of – even Erik now struggles to find stock having very kindly, but rather unfortunately for him, revealed his sources. Thankfully though I have it on good authority, indeed the horse’s mouth (so to speak), that Cocchi Americano should, all being well, be returning to American shores later this year. Meanwhile if you’re after some here in Britain drop me a line and I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction. As soon as I’ve stocked up myself, of course…
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