Aside from vermouth, the most common classifications of
aromatized wine are quinquina and americano. These are not so 'common' in North
America anymore, however, due to availability and also to popular brands
changing their recipes. As seen in the previous post on vermouth ,
altering recipes can make classification confusing as defining ingredients are
sometimes removed. In the case of vermouth these alterations were largely due
to the legal and reputational issues with wormwood. In the case of americanos
and quinquinas, this is due to the increase in production volume of popular
brands, but also the change in the public's general palate and the producers'
desire to evolve with those trends.
Lillet and Dubonnet are the best examples of this, and also the most popular products of their
kind. In 1986, Lillet was rebranded (removing "Kina" from the name)
and the recipe supposedly removed most or arguably all of the quinine, making
the product taste considerably sweeter and lose its bitterness. Likewise,
Dubonnet changed its license in the 1940's and began production in Kentucky for
the American market. The taste of the U.S. version is also less bitter and less
complex. Aside from the decline in taste, the unfortunate consequences of these
changes affect classification and more importantly cocktails. A quinquina
without quinine is technically not a quinquina. A classic cocktail containing
an ingredient that has lost its bitterness will be both inaccurate and
During the colonization period of the 17th and 18th
centuries, malaria became a threat to European soldiers. It was discovered by
the Italians that a Peruvian tree bark called "chinchona," or
"quina" in the native tongue, could ward off the disease. This was
due to a chemical in the bark named "quinine," and it became a
requirement for sailors to have daily rations - what later became known as
tonic water. (Add in a ration of citrus to ward off scurvy and a ration of gin
to make it all more palatable and we have the origin of the Gin & Tonic).
Chinchona became a popular tonic at home as well and it was soon added to
bitters and wines. Aromatized wines containing chinchona, and therefore
quinine, became known as "quinquina" (keen-KEEN-ah). Interestingly,
quinquina was largely produced by the French and not by the Italians who first
brought it back to Europe.
Bonal Gentiane Quina:
originally made in St. Laurent du Pont, southeast France, in 1865 with the
major components being both gentian root and quinine.
created in 1866 in Thuir, also southeast France, by brothers Pallade and Simon
Violet from red wines, mistelle, and quinine. It was branded as a health tonic
due to local competition from other aperitif producers. Byrrh was somewhat
popular in the U.S. until Prohibition when it stopped distribution, but
returned to the American market in 2012.
Dubonnet: one of
the first and most successful quinquinas, created in Paris in 1846. It was the
most mild-tasting and after World War II became even more mild in the U.S. when
production for that market switched to the Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky. Dubonnet outside of the U.S., including what is sold in Canada, is
representative of the original product.
Lillet: Originally branded
"Kina Lillet" in 1887 in Podensac, Bordeaux. Brothers Paul and
Raymond Lillet made jams, marmalades, eaux de vie, and Cognac before trying
their hand at aromatized wine. It is made from an 85% blend of Bordeaux wines
and 15% citrus liqueurs, and is macerated with herbs. In 1986, the name was
changed and supposedly so was the recipe. While this is still somewhat a matter
of debate, today’s Lillet has essentially no bitterness at all compared to
other quinquinas and americanos. It is at least fair to assume that Lillet does
not contain enough quinine to still be considered a quinquina. Rouge and rose
versions were released in 1962 and 2010 respectively.
Numerous classic cocktails, particularly from the SavoyCocktail Book call for Kina Lillet, but it is actually an americano that is best suited for
recreating these drinks (see below). However, Dubonnet also shows up
occasionally, like in this 1920's classic from Harry's New York Bar in Paris:
- 2oz gin
- 1/2oz Dubonnet
- 1/4oz maraschino
- Dash orange bitters
Stir ingredients with
ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
This is a tricky classification as it is defined by
botanicals that are present in other aromatized wines, so the only clear
separation is in the intention and marketing of the product by its producers.
Americano, named by the word "amer," meaning bitter, not by anything
to do with the U.S., has a defining flavour of gentian and/or wormwood. On
average, they are considerably more bitter than vermouths and usually higher in
sugar content and therefore viscosity as well. Americanos are usually enjoyed
as aperitifs, more so than quinquinas and much more so than vermouth. They show
up rarely if at all in classic cocktails.
created in Asti, Piedmont, Italy, in 1891 from Moscato di Asti grapes. The
taste of this product is very similar to old bottles of Kina Lillet. For this
reason, Cocchi Americano is considered by cocktail experts to be the closest
approximation of the original Kina Lillet, and is today often used in drinks
calling for this as an ingredient.
while their products date back to the 19th century, production ceased until
somewhat recently when this Piemonte sparkling wine producer was bought by new
owners and old recipes were given new life.
As mentioned above, Cocchi Americano is a good
representation of Kina Lillet, so a Vesper, Twentieth Century, or Kina Cocktail
are all good choices, but probably the best place to start is the Corpse
Reviver #2, dating back to the 19th century but made famous by Harry Craddock
at the Savoy Hotel in the 1930’s.
Corpse Reviver #2
- 3/4oz gin
- 3/4oz orange Liqueur
- 3/4oz Cocchi Americano
- 3/4oz lemon juice
- Dash of absinthe
Shake all ingredients
with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
Meticulously classifying these products may seem overly
tedious or even moot, but it gets us in touch with their history and original
intentions. Paying attention to product history also allows us to recreate
cocktails in a historically accurate way, which is educational and respectful
of their past.
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