A gracious hello!

Wes and I were browsing at a nifty antique shop one day 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. (It's pronounced "lil-LAY".) Although many consider it to be a variety of vermouth, I tend to put it in a category all by itself. It's not as herbal as vermouth, but that said it is an excellent subsitute for white vermouth in many cocktails that call for it. There's also a classic method of consuming Lillet, simply chilled with a slice of orange, either straight up or on the rocks. (This is, in fact, the favorite drink of one Dr. Hannibal Lecter.) There's also a great old New Orleans variation on this called the Lillet Cocktail ... but I digress.

Anyway, the recipe they printed for the Tiger Lillet didn't quite add up -- it called for 1/3 Lillet, 1/3 Van der Hum (a South African tangerine and spice 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 kind of turned me off. At that time, I had a singular attitude regarding cocktails, stated thusly: I do not like dry vermouth. 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. This was a failure on my part, I know. In the ensuing years I worked very hard to develop more of an appreciation for dry vermouth, and now I'm gleefully quaffing Martinis (and let me state categorically, and for the record, that a Martini contains vermouth. But I digress yet again ...).

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. It's extremely difficult to find in the United States. Fortunately, right there in my bar cabinet was a bottle of Mandarine Napoléon, another tangerine liqueur that's based on brandy, which I thought would make an excellent substitute. We were 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 (which these days I use frequently for my Fancy-Frees).

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. I tried several things; Cointreau and Grand Marnier were out, because I thought we had the citrus flavor covered; Cointreau was a little much, and the Grand Marnier tended to take over. How 'bout ... Cognac? Hmmmmm. Complimentary flavor, keeps it mostly French ("IT IS BELGIAN!" shrieks the bottle of Mandarine Napoleon predictably, in a voice that sounds uncannily like Poirot) 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. Even though I'm unsure that this can be considered an original cocktail, since it's a spinoff of the older one, I still thought it needed a name of its own. I can't call it a Tiger Lillet anymore, since I'd changed some ingredients. That's one of the cardinal laws of cooking -- all chefs know that 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 loved and admired for a very long time and whose work has given me a great deal of enjoyment since childhood. And that's the truttthhhhhh.

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel, two ringy-dingys and serve to the party to whom you are speaking.


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Chuck Taggart   email chuck (at) gumbopages (dot) com