Do you think only perfume lovers decry reformulations and look for the “vintage” blends, with all of the good things still intact? Elisa found a terrific cocktail blog by Paul Clarke about the reformulation of Lillet, a refreshing French aperitif, and she wanted to share it with you.


“Lillet is still in production, and is a lovely aperitif wine, but a reformulation in 1986 removed the product’s quinine bite (along with the quinine-related “Kina” from the name), in the process altering the flavor characteristics Lillet delivered when mixed in a cocktail. To read the rest, continue here.”

It looks like quinine is the oakmoss of the cocktail world!




  • Ann: Lillet is one of my favorite wines to use in cooking, mainly for deglazing when you want a refreshing, barely there wine taste.

    Interesting article! June 17, 2014 at 9:15am Reply

    • Elisa: Ann, have you tried the Cocchi Americano? It’s delicious! We polished off a bottle in a couple of weeks. June 17, 2014 at 11:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve never tried cooking with Lillet, but now I want to experiment! June 17, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

      • Elisa: Along similar lines — red vermouth is delicious in tomato sauce. June 17, 2014 at 12:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: This sounds so delicious! I’m now making a grocery list with Lillet, vermouth and the Cocchi Americano, if I can find it. June 17, 2014 at 4:15pm Reply

  • Lucas: Very interesting.
    There’s quite a lot of quinine in so called “tonic” drinks.
    The funny thing about that is the fact that quinine is fluorescent in UV light, so drinks based on tonic go glow if you go to some party with UV light 😉 June 17, 2014 at 9:18am Reply

    • Michaela: How nice! 🙂 June 17, 2014 at 10:04am Reply

    • Elisa: Lucas, I experience this in a bar in San Sebastian, Spain once! My cocktail was glowing blue. June 17, 2014 at 11:29am Reply

      • Lucas: Yes, quinine does glow with a blue color 🙂 June 19, 2014 at 4:12am Reply

    • Victoria: How cool! Now, I need to be in the same place with a quinine spiked drink and the UV light. 🙂 June 17, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

      • Lucas: The effect is quite futuristic 😉 June 19, 2014 at 4:12am Reply

  • Jillie: EVERYTHING is being reformulated – from my favourite Greek yoghurt, to bin liners to packs of chopped tomatoes! I don’t believe it’s for “health and safety” reasons, but rather for commercial concerns: in most cases the quality of the item suffers a downgrade. In other words, cut the costs and keep (or increase) the profits. What annoys me just as much as the deterioration of the item is the cynical attitude of manufacturers who think we won’t notice! June 17, 2014 at 9:45am Reply

    • Michaela: Yes, Jillie, I believe the same.
      Sometimes a brand new product with a brand new name is finally launched as a big discovery, and they think nobody remembers it is exactly some old lost one, and it usually costs at least twice as much. June 17, 2014 at 10:00am Reply

      • Victoria: But people also are quite suggestible. I remember a story of Seven Up (or maybe, Mountain Dew) relaunching its soft drink in a different color can and people complained that it tasted different, more citrusy, while the formula was not changed a bit. June 17, 2014 at 11:47am Reply

        • Michaela: Very nice story! 🙂 I believe I would have been distracted myself, the color can change a lot in my perception. June 18, 2014 at 3:32am Reply

          • Victoria: We’re very vision oriented, which can sometimes fool us. 🙂 June 18, 2014 at 5:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I take the “health and safety” concerns with a grain of salt too. In perfumery, we might see niche brand raising their costs and then complaining that they were forced to do so because of the regulations. And that I would treat with even more skepticism. June 17, 2014 at 11:43am Reply

      • Jillie: Yep. June 17, 2014 at 12:55pm Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: How interesting! I love the bitter taste of quinine in tonic water. Unlike oakmoss, it wasn’t for a safety/legal reason why Lillet was reformulated so they can bring it back if they wanted, can’t they? Your post led me to read a few more articles on this drink and I found it amusing that people tried to add quinine powder or create a quinine tincture to bring the old taste back. Then I started imagining people doing the same thing with oakmoss and perfume. 🙂 I guess it’s simpler to find vintage perfumes. June 17, 2014 at 9:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I suppose, it was more to reflect the changing tastes, and yes, they can still bring it back. Or bring back a special “vintage bitter” edition. I don’t know that market well, so who knows, if that’s feasible or not.

      I also read about people adding oakmoss to their reformulated perfumes, which is even harder than tweaking a cocktail with a bit of quinine tincture. June 17, 2014 at 11:46am Reply

      • Anne of Green Gables: What!? I only meant it as a joke. I had no idea that there were actually people adding oakmoss to perfumes. June 17, 2014 at 1:29pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, it happened! A group of perfume lovers even once wrote to me asking for instructions on how much oakmoss to add. I’m afraid that my answer was not too helpful, as it’s very hard to tweak a commercial blend, which is already diluted, macerated and has various stabilizers added. June 17, 2014 at 4:26pm Reply

  • Michaela: Interesting!
    My mother remembers well she was frequently given bitter quinine as a prevention against malaria when she was a child. Then the adults were trying to comfort the kids with honey. Probably no honey in the world could make her forget the bitterness. June 17, 2014 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s why British officers drank so much gin & tonic in India! Your poor mom. I can’t imagine taking a mixture of quinine on its own. It’s really the most bitter taste. On the other hand, I love various bitters and tonic waters. A touch of bitterness can be addictive. June 17, 2014 at 11:50am Reply

  • george: I was just reading a Guardian article on an exhibition on colour in painting at the national gallery which mentioned William Perkin who created the first synthetic dye (and a mauve one at that) whilst trying to synthesise quinine. He also created- I believe- the first method of synthesising coumarin (so is somewhat responsible for modern perfumery). Sometimes it’s amazing how linked together everything is! Drinking gin always make me feel extremely physically depressed the next day, which I guess is due to the quinine (and I never have any reaction to any perfume by comparison). Maybe the governmental bodies are less willing to pick a fight with the drinks’ companies? June 17, 2014 at 12:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: Now, my question is how much gin you’re drinking to feel the effect? 🙂

      William Perkin was really a fascinating character! June 17, 2014 at 12:15pm Reply

      • george: Yes, I want to know more. I shall look out for the book Mauve which is first dye invention. June 17, 2014 at 12:31pm Reply

        • george: *about his first dye invention June 17, 2014 at 12:31pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s what I was just about to google! June 17, 2014 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Jillie: George, I remember that whenever my grannie stayed with us, my father would say to my mother “don’t let her have a gin and tonic, she’ll only get morbid – give her sherry”! I guess there must be a depressive element in quinine, although I grew up thinking it was the gin, especially after seeing all those Hogarth pictures of the dire consequences of drinking it (but that could have been the quantity they imbibed!). June 17, 2014 at 12:59pm Reply

      • george: I think you are right: it is probably the gin rather than the quinine in the tonic (although an internet theory says that it’s more to do with the comparatively small amount of sugar in the tonic) I should add that I NEVER drunk it neat and by the pint as was the case in the 18th century. June 17, 2014 at 1:59pm Reply

        • Jillie: I believe you, George! Actually I once sipped some neat gin and it tasted dreadful – almost like a mouldy flavour. Never again. Will stick to gin and tonic or gin and rose lemonade. June 18, 2014 at 5:31am Reply

  • Austenfan: I’m actually surprised that quinine is still allowed in soft drinks as it can be quite toxic. Mind you, I think you would have to drink quite a lot of these quinine “spiked” drinks to arrive at a toxic dose, but people with certain medical conditions probably have to be a bit more careful.
    In malaria treatment it is no longer a drug of first choice, because of the side effects. Therapeutic doses of quinine are an awful lot higher than the fizzy drink ones, so no need to suddenly ditch the tonic or bitter lemon! June 17, 2014 at 12:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: From what I read, it’s toxic only at certain doses and harmless in small amounts, such as what a reasonable person consume when drinking tonic water or Schweppes. June 17, 2014 at 4:24pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Such is my understanding as well. I haven’t made any exact calculations but I am guessing you would have to drink several gallons of tonic to reach dangerous levels.
        The reason I am surprised they still allow it is that these days most regulations regarding food are ridiculously strict. June 17, 2014 at 5:12pm Reply

        • Austenfan: I am thinking of cheese made of non pasteurised milk for instance. And raw milk cheese tastes that much better! June 17, 2014 at 5:15pm Reply

          • Victoria: But that’s still allowed. Interestingly enough, I was chatting with a cheese purveyor here in Brussels and asking for Dutch raw milk cheeses. He said that traditionally few, if any, were made with raw milk, only well boiled or pasteurized, and that the raw milk cheeses in the Netherlands is a fairly modern trend. By the way, my dad’s dog would never eat pasteurized milk cheese, but raw milk varieties were her favorites. June 17, 2014 at 6:03pm Reply

            • iodine: I read an article yesterday on the Italian HuffPost on FDA warning about traditionally seasoned cheese, like Parmigiano. The wooden benches on which the cheese rests for years could be bacterial bombs, in their opinion 🙁
              Can you imagine?! It has happened before, with French cheese, but American gourmets are actively protesting with an online petition “Save our cheese”! June 18, 2014 at 4:07am Reply

              • Victoria: I read that story too, but it seems that the petitions and the protests have worked, because as of Tuesday the FDA has retracted their statement that they will ban wood surfaces. Keeping fingers crossed! One of the joys of living in Europe is having access to the lightly aged raw milk cheeses. In the US, this is not allowed. June 18, 2014 at 5:42am Reply

            • Jillie: I buy raw butter! It comes from Isigny and has salt crystals mixed into it. Lovely. One of our two cats is desperate for it and taps our hands to demand a lick! June 18, 2014 at 5:34am Reply

              • Victoria: That was my best food discovery in Belgium–raw cream butter! You can almost eat it in tiny slivers by itself, that’s how good it is. I completely understand why your cat loves it. 🙂 June 18, 2014 at 5:44am Reply

            • Austenfan: I know it is still allowed but every now and then you read these little titbits that it may actually be dangerous. Which is rubbish, we need germs to stay alive and keep our immune systems going.
              It’s I think nearly impossible to get raw milk Dutch cheese in a supermarket or even a specialised shop, I have never seen any. But I will start exploring if only for your interest.
              I get my cheese, and my other dairy products from a local cheese maker (blessed are the cheese makers!) who uses raw milk. Apparently it is technically more difficult to make cheese from raw milk, it needs more experience. Can you imagine Roquefort from pasteurised milk? Or a beautiful Beaufortain? June 18, 2014 at 8:37am Reply

      • Austenfan: Okay, call me a nerd but after some brief browsing I have discovered the following:
        The maximum therapeutic oral dose of Quinine is 600 mg/ 3 times a day.
        The highest concentration in tonic water (in the Netherlands) is 85 mg/liter. Which means you would have to drink 21 liters of tonic to achieve this. Which is not humanly possible. June 17, 2014 at 5:38pm Reply

        • Victoria: I love it! 🙂 Yes, if one drinks that much tonic water, there will be plenty of other issues besides quinine. June 17, 2014 at 6:07pm Reply

          • Austenfan: My guess is one would die of some form of water intoxication, but it all depends on how quickly you drink it, how much saline is in tonic and a number of other factors. Also I think it is just not mechanically feasible. You just cannot put that big a volume into your stomach. June 18, 2014 at 8:41am Reply

        • Michaela: Thank you! 🙂 June 18, 2014 at 5:58am Reply

  • Theresa: Count me in on the Cocchi Americano bandwagon. When I first heard about this a few years ago, as a vintage cocktail fancier, I was intrigued, so went out and bought bottles of both Cocchi and Lillet Blanc. I made two versions of my favorite Corpse Reviver #2, one with Cocchi & one with Lillet. both my husband and myself overwhelmingly preferred the one with Cocchi, and we are not what you would call “super tasters.” Since then I have always had a bottle of Cocchi in the fridge for cocktail making. Yum! June 17, 2014 at 2:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not a big cocktail fan, but this discussion is really making me want to try various ones! 🙂 For starters, I will get a bottle of Lillet. June 17, 2014 at 4:27pm Reply

    • Elisa: Theresa, what else is in a Corpse Reviver 2? (sounds like a zombie movie sequel) June 18, 2014 at 2:47pm Reply

  • Jillie: Like Victoria I am now yearning for cocktails, particularly those with vermouth. There is one that was delicious, but we can’t get in the UK now – Chamberyzette. It’s flavoured with wild strawberries and makes a beautiful drink with sparkling water and a slice of orange. June 18, 2014 at 5:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Anything with wild strawberries is enough to catch my attention. I have never tried Chamberyzette, but I’m now curious about it. Our local wine store has an interesting eglantine (wild rose hips) eau de vie, which is on my to try list. Frankly, our collections of liqueurs is enormous, especially for two people who don’t even drink that much. June 18, 2014 at 5:47am Reply

      • george: Maybe there is a perfume and comparative liqueur article like your amazing bollywood article in the offing? June 18, 2014 at 9:32am Reply

        • george: I add this because I think that people’s like or dislike of alcohol really informs their perfume taste and even the grown up nature of certain fragrances is because they are reminiscent of alcoholic drinks. (Despite my earlier gin confession, I barely drink, and alcoholic nuances are generally not appreciated by me) See Voleur de roses. June 18, 2014 at 9:35am Reply

          • Jillie: I do like drinking, George, but I really don’t like a perfume that’s too “boozy” – Goutal’s Ce Soir ou Jamais smells like alcohol (maybe a very old brandy?) and I think I associate that liquor odour with perfume that has turned. I think that perfumistas are quite often interested in the flavours of wines/spirits as the two worlds of perfume and drink are so entwined and share a similar vocabulary. June 18, 2014 at 10:48am Reply

      • Jillie: Ha ha! We have the same problem – so many bottles (a lot of them gifts, I should say) but we don’t drink that much! Eglantine eau de vie sounds gorgeous. My husband is very lucky in finding me rose flavoured vodkas each birthday, and they are delicious; I think they are usual Polish. June 18, 2014 at 10:43am Reply

  • hepatica: What an interesting trail….I used to adore Lillet, (blanc, on ice with a twist of lemon) but the last time I tried it, the overwhelming impression was of sweetness, without complexity, much like so many contemporary perfumes! The absence of quinine makes perfect sense, and its inclusion in the original is probably what I liked. We first tried Schweppes Bitter Lemon, Tonic, and Ginger Beer when my family was in Jamaica. As children that bitterness seemed so sophisticated! I can’t wait to try Cocchi Americano as a summer apertif.
    As for reformulation, or “new and improved”, I have come to see them as pronouncements of doom. I can’t begin to tell you how many items I’ve adored only to lose them to “new and improved”.

    Still, I used to love mostly vintage fragrances, and I am now finding so many wonderful new perfumes to try. And I love reading your wonderful descriptions here, then hopping from blog to blog, researching a new take on new and old scents, and after years of disappointment with laundry products I’ve recently discovered The Laundress and adore their products and scents. They seem so expensive but in an HE washer you need so little that a bottle lasts a very long time! June 18, 2014 at 7:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m curious to try this line too, since I’m yet to find anything that I really like. But I need to check if they are sold in Europe. For now, we use a brand called Chat (Cat), for the name if not for anything else. 🙂 June 19, 2014 at 11:39am Reply

  • Laura: Hmm … I distinctly remember James Bond in Casino Royale saying “Kina Lillet” when ordering what became his “Vesper” cocktail … 🙂 June 24, 2014 at 5:04am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m now curious to watch that scene. 🙂 June 24, 2014 at 9:42am Reply

      • Laura: There you go! 🙂 June 24, 2014 at 2:42pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you so much! If others also want to see the clip, just click on Laura’s name. 🙂 June 24, 2014 at 2:48pm Reply

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