The appeal of an apéritif – most often an alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal to set the tone and stimulate the appetite – is enduring, having strayed over from the Continent in various sparkling guises to bring an air of sophistication to preprandial occasions. From champagne to more elaborate concoctions, pre-dinner drinks are enjoyed across the nation, but particularly in the re-emerging buzz of London. And the spritz du jour for sophisticates in-the-know, from the Edwardian streets of Kensington to the rooftops of the City, is Lillet, a French wine-based apéritif taking the capital by storm.
Maison Lillet was founded in 1872 by brothers Raymond and Paul Lillet, fine wine merchants and liqueur makers, in a small village south of Bordeaux, France. A subtle blend of wine and fruit infusions with a fruit-forward, floral taste, this glorious apéritif enjoyed its first moment in the spotlight in postwar Britain, continuing to grow in popularity throughout the Fifties, and eventually making its way into leading bars in London, New York and further afield. Lillet was immortalised by Ian Fleming in 1953, who used it in James Bond’s exacting recipe for the Vesper Martini in Casino Royale: three measures of gin, one of vodka, and half a measure of Kina Lillet. ‘Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel,’ says Bond. ‘Got it?’
But those looking for a lighter Lillet blend will prefer its more recent incarnation: a deliciously refreshing (and low-calorie and low-ABV) spritz, served with tonic, plenty of ice and garnished with a slice of strawberry, cucumber and mint leaves. Ideal for imbibing in the early evening, a Lillet Spritz is made for those looking for a light option that still feels joyful – and possibly well-needed after a long day. Facilitating exactly that, Lillet is this summer partnering with London’s most sought-after terraces to bring a taste of Bordeaux to the capital’s social scene now that it is swinging once again.
While international travel remains uncertain, transportative venues are more inviting than ever, and Lillet has teamed up with the famous Bluebird Chelsea to bring a touch of the French Riviera’s timeless style and sophistication to London’s most discerning set. The partnership will see the Bluebird terrace adorned with a magnificent, joy-sparking floral installation, where guests can enjoy a selection of delicious low-ABV Lillet Spritz creations in a vibrant yet relaxed setting. The Bluebird Lillet terrace will be open until the end of September, and the brand will also be partnering with Orrery’s stylish rooftop terrace in glamorous Marylebone. Filled with beautiful floral touches and elegant olive trees, this hidden spot feels as relaxing as Southern France, especially when enjoying a Lillet Spritz and some of Orrery’s sophisticated French food, from a light lunch to pre-dinner snacks.
Finally, Lillet’s summer of collaborations will extend to the women’s member’s club, AllBright Mayfair. This city hotspot, with its bijou rooftop, is the perfect location in which to discover Lillet, not least because this is a brand that’s committed to championing female empowerment. It’s hard to imagine a better place for catching up with friends or colleagues after months of separation, and it’s also a top spot for forging valuable new connections over a low-key yet celebratory drink.
As well as the classic Lillet Blanc, there is also Lillet Rouge, which was created for the American market in 1962, and Lillet Rosé, which arrived in 2011 after the growth in popularity of rosé wine. The latter is delicious served with tonic, plenty of ice and a few slices of zesty lime, while Lillet Rouge is perfect paired with tonic and the freshness of orange, and drunk all year round, whatever the occasion (or weather).
Combining the heritage of the Bordeaux winemaking region with the expertise of Maison Lillet’s small team, the precise production process focuses on craftsmanship and quality. Each Lillet incarnation is created to bring out the best in the wines from which it is blended; only French wines are chosen, the majority of which are produced by growers in the Bordeaux region.
Timeless yet fresh, Lillet combines tradition and craftsmanship with stylish flair, making it perfect for a new season filled with fun, friendship, freedom and hope. Wherever you are, the only question is how you want to enjoy this modern classic – and the joie de vivre that’s guaranteed to come with it.
Book a table at Bluebird’s Lillet terrace until the end of September here