One of the first things I learned to drink is an aperitif called Lillet. My mother once gave me a little taste when I was in High School. I remember her explaining to me what a “fortified wine” was. When I was living with my grandparents, or—later—visiting them, in my twenties and early thirties, Lillet on ice with a twist of orange peel and splash of gin became the cocktail that I would drink while they had their martinis. Since then, my improvised, Granddaddy inspired (he suggested both the orange rind and the gin) mixture has become a signature (albeit, rather freeform in its ratios) cocktail in my house. Sometimes its more like a martini, with more gin and less Lillet, and sometimes it’s the gin that is in the minority. The problem is, the stuff is darned expensive. If you know where to go, it can be had for less than $15. But most places, if they stock it at all, charge almost $20 for as 750ml bottle. What if you could make it yourself?
Here is the recipe I started with on 17 January 2013; it is very closely based on one that was in the New York Times in 2011. This version was on a blog called Glutton for Life.
makes about 2 litres
— 1/2 cup dark rum
— 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
— 2 liters good quality rosé (about 2 1/2 bottles)
— 1 cup vodka
— 8 whole green cardamom pods
— 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
— 1/2 vanilla bean
— 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
— 2 lemons or grapefruit, or one of each
— 3 tangerines or oranges with a good balance of tart and sweet
Wash the citrus and slice them in thick wheels. Place them in a clean container (glass
or hard plastic) with a wide mouth and a tight-fitting lid. Add the sugar, spices, rosé
Stir this well with a spoon (not wooden, as it may harbor bacteria that could inhibit
fermentation) and fasten the lid. Keep the jar in the refrigerator, or a cool dry place,
shaking occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
After about 6 weeks, mix in the rum, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh
strainer or several layers of cheesecloth. Stored in bottles at a cool room temperature
or in the refrigerator, your vin d’orange it will last indefinitely. Drink it plain on the
rocks, or mixed with sparkling wine or water, garnished with a slice of orange.
I used a cheapish (BotaBox) Pinot Grigio rather than a rosé; if the final result isn’t a lot cheaper than actual Lillet, then what’s the point? I did not have any pink peppercorns, vanilla bean, or green cardamom pods. Instead I used some kernels of allspice, some regular cardamom pods, a small splash of vanilla extract, and the cinnamon stick called for in the recipe. For the citrus I used a lemon, a grapefruit, and three oranges (maybe I should make a knowing reference to Prokoviev). My first taste after the initial mixing suggests that 1½ cups of sugar is too much, but time will tell. This batch should be ready for rum and testing at the end of February.