A quick Google consultation yields the following roadblocks to the enjoyment of Savoy cocktails requiring Caperitif and Kina Lillet.
Caperitif, once a South African quinquina (meaning an apéritif laced with quinine to prevent the malaria from afflicting imperial personnel of the various European colonial empires of sticky climes) produced in Cape Town (hence caperitif), is no longer in production. According to the Cocktail DB, Caperitif was a “sweet deep golden quinquina.”
One of the possible substitutes offered to Capertif is Kina Lillet.
Kina Lillet was a classic French quinquina imbued with sweet and bitter citruses, including bitter green oranges from French holdings in the Caribbean. The Lillet house is still in operation, but in the 1980s they decided to update the nineteenth-century recipe for modern tastes. Apparently modern drinkers have less need for quinine laced beverages and more need for liquor that is not bitter; thus, the amount of quinine was radically reduced, Kina Lillet became Lillet Blanc (there is also rouge version which I hear is generally unnecessary to life) and a quintessential classic cocktail ingredient is now lost to the ages despite still being in business. What a tease.
It is a rough world.
To sum it up: It would appear that drinking a cocktail mixed with modern Lillet Blanc is an ersatz impression of the original recipe.
What to do?
As I often do, I consulted Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog (formerly called Underhill Lounge), where I found an interesting solution. He (and many other cocktail-centric folks who have caught on to the magic of what I am about to impart) discovered Cocchi Americano, an Italian quinquina still in production using the house’s original nineteenth-century recipe. According to all internet experts on the matter, Cocchi is the substitute for Kina Lillet, a very close taste comparison.
I decided to see if I could track down some Cocchi in Chicago and use it in place of both Kina Lillet and Caperitif, in order to attain my heart’s desire: The Jabberwock, named for the poem by Lewis Carroll, featured in Through the Looking-glass, the second Alice book.
As one might infer from the title of this post, I was unsuccessful in my quest to make a nearing-authentic Alice in Wonderland themed cocktail. Cocchi Americano eluded me.
With my heart set on a “Callooh! Callay!” cocktail, I decided to go ahead with the Jabberwock anyway, using regular old Lillet Blanc instead of Caperitif quinquina.
I did enjoy my poor man’s Jabberwock, although I am haunted by what might have been. Since last week I found that Ellestad suggests using 1 tsp Amaro Montenegro, 1 oz Dolin Blanc (French vermouth) to approximate Caperitif. I am bookmarking the Jabberwock for a remake in the future, based on his suggestion.
After my Jabberwock incident, I decided to try Lillet Blanc in a cocktail calling for actual Kina Lillet: The Jimmy Blang.
3 Dashes Dubonnet
1/3 Kina Lillet
2/3 Dry Gin
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.
The Jimmy Blang takes on warm coloring from the Dubonnet, so the refreshing quality of the Lillet and gin comes as a surprise to the taster who has no idea what they are about to imbibe. We enjoyed it as another great patio apéritif cocktail. I still hope to revisit once I get my hands on a bottle of Cocchi, which I am determined to do.
By the way, Lillet Blanc is a lovely apéritif on its own over ice with a slice of lime or clementine. Once the bottle is opened it ought to be refrigerated and used in a timely fashion. I have been serving it for the past week on non-cocktail nights, and I find myself becoming quite a fan.
Now that we have finally reached the end of this very long blog post, I implore any Chicago area readers who know of store carrying Cocchi Americano to please comment on this post. I am—clearly—very keen to get my hands on a bottle.
As for this coming week, I will be shaking things up a bit by introducing homemade hibiscus syrup to a range of Savoy Cocktails and other beverages. Some time ago I mentioned my interest in cooking with flowers and a fabulous little French cookbook that helps me achieve my floral cuisine goals. Next week I will include the recipe for hibiscus syrup along with those of the cocktails on which I end up experimenting.