Vermouths, Americanos, Quinquinas & Aromatized Wines
Many of the drinks on this blog rely on vermouth and other aromatized wines. A great resource for learning more about aromatized wine is Vermouth 101.
Aromatized wines are wines that are fortified with spirits and infused with botanicals. All aromatized wines should be kept refrigerated after opening. With refrigeration, I personally do not notice the flavors going off during the course of my use of a bottle, which could be months.
A vermouth is an aromatized wine that is primarily flavored with wormwood.
A call for French vermouth is a call for dry, straw-colored or transparent vermouth. Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambéry is my go-to choice.
A call for Italian vermouth is a call for sweet, red or brown vermouth. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is my go-to choice.
Vermouth blanc & vermouth bianco
These are semi-sweet vermouths labeled as blanc in French and bianco in Italian. They may be straw-colored or transparent, but they are distinct from dry French vermouths. Vermouth blanc has it’s origins in Chambéry.
An americano is an aromatized wine that is primarily flavored with gentian root.
Cocchi Americano is a famous example, although the bianco is often used as a stand-in for the quinquina blanc, Kina Lillet (see below).
Quinquina & Chinato
A quinquina (French) or chinato (Italian) is an aromatized wine that is primarily flavored with cinchona bark (quinine).
Since the late 2000s, the topic of Kina Lillet has been heavily debated. A French quinquina blanc, Kina Lillet was called for frequently in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, as well as used as a stand-in for dry vermouth in James Bond’s Vesper Martini.
The Kina Lillet debate centers around whether or not today’s Lillet Blanc is the same as Kina Lillet was in the time and place of Harry Craddock or in the time and place of Ian Fleming.
There is a lot of internet cocktail historian research on the subject as well as denial from Lillet themselves that things ever changed, and even a book written in 1998 on the history of Lillet and the various formulas and releases. However, the “accepted” notion from the cocktail historian world is that Cocchi Americano Bianco is more like Kina Lillet than Lillet Blanc is. Specifically, a belief is held that Lillet became less syrupy and less bitter in the 1980s, and dropped “Kina” from it’s name.
For all of the 2010s I personally have used Cocchi Americano in place of Kina Lillet and have always enjoyed the results. However, when revisiting the internet discussions that led to Cocchi Americano’s popularity, the claim that Cocchi Americano is a more historically accurate ingredient feels tenuously derived.
It appears as though Cocchi Americano as a substitute was enjoyed by the author of the Savoy Stomp blog who figured it was closer to Kina Lillet than present-day Lillet is, based on written descriptions. Spurred by this, an anonymous eGullet user allegedly tasted it side-by-side with an old bottle of Kina Lillet and remarked that they were indeed similar.
I enjoy Cocchi Americano in place of Kina Lillet but I’m less convinced that there has ever been any real, traceable evidence that it is exactly like Kina Lillet used to be, especially since there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what Kina Lillet actually used to be in the first place. It appears as though different markets received different versions during different eras of the quinquina’s distribution.
Regardless, cocktail enthusiasts throughout the world have turned to Cocchi Americano in place of Kina Lillet throughout the 2010s and so at this point it’s almost the canonical replacement for Kina Lillet in it’s own right, regardless of historicity. Further, it’s hard to argue with the reality that it really does work well in the drinks where it fills in for Kina Lillet.
One of the largest potential discrepancies is that Cocchi Americano, being an americano, is bittered with gentian. Cocchi Americano also is bittered with cinchona bark, but it is named for it’s gentian content. Kina Lillet was presumably a pure quinquina, without gentian bittering. A lesser discrepancy is that Cocchi is an Italian producer whereas Lillet is French.
A French quinquina blanc still in production is L. N. Mattei Cap Corse Blanc¹ and it’s producers acknowledge the quinquina’s potential role as a stand-in for Kina Lillet. Having tried it side-by-side with Cocchi Americano, the Cap Corse definitely has a sharper, more quinine-y bitterness.² I also tried the Cap Corse in a Vesper as well as a Kina Cocktail and both drinks came out sharper and bitterer than they would with Cocchi Americano. I enjoyed them, but I’m not sure I enjoyed them more (or less) than the same drinks made with Cocchi Americano. It would depend on my mood and how bitter of a drink I was looking for.
At this point Cocchi Americano is the cocktail enthusiast go-to replacement for all older Kina Lillet drinks. In the future, people may expect 2010s-era Kina Lillet cocktails to taste as though they were made with Cocchi Americano, whether or not that was ever historically correct.
Anyone who wants to try a sharper drink, or replace one French quinquina blanc with another, may substitute Cap Corse Blanc.
Finally, Lillet Blanc itself can be used. The company claims that the formula never significantly changed. It’s possible that the Kina Lillet called for in older recipes was never any more bitter than it is now and this bittering through substitution is a modern development.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste. If you want to be safe from a modern cocktail enthusiast standpoint, go with Cocchi Americano. If you want to be safe from a brand loyalty stand point, go with Lillet Blanc. If you want to try an actual French quinquina blanc in Kina Lillet’s place, go with Cap Corse. On a scale of flavor, Lillet Blanc will be the least bitter with trace amounts of quinine, Cocchi Americano is more bitter (with gentian and quinine bitterness on the palate), and Cap Corse, at least to me, is the most sharply bitter and with that bitterness being quinine in nature.