"Gosh, that's certainly a drink."
February 24, 2018 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I've ordered a glorified vesper martini four times from certain bar that contains plymouth gin, vodka, and "birch infused lillet blanc". From one bartender, it tastes... like nothing in particular. From another, it tastes and smells strongly minty/bitter, like it contains a glug of cleaning solution or really bad mouthwash. Which is correct (I don't know what birch OR lillet blanc is supposed to taste like) and if the latter is wrong, what might the bartender be accidentally using instead of (I'm guessing) the lillet blanc?

It's a clear drink in both cases, with a lemon twist. I may have noticed a bit of oily residue on the surface of the minty drink. It's a nicely stocked bar at a movie theater, not some super fancy craft cocktail place. I'd order it again and watch very carefully but that sounds risky and expensive.
posted by acidic to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Birch definitely has a bracing/astringent flavor that some may call "minty", and it can be a bit much if too much is used.

I suspect they are using the exact same ingredients but in different ratios.
Probably one bartender goes easy on the birch lillet blanc (e.g. 1:1:0.25) while the other gives an extra splash (or three) of it, thinking everyone loves is as much as they do.

Another variable: since this may be infused in-house, the infusion time/quality could cause the end product to vary from "bad mouthwash" to "delicious". In my town a theater that serves cocktails may well infuse their own, you cocktail theater may vary.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:41 PM on February 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Agree with SaltySalticid. Lillet Blanc does not have any minty taste on its own. Mildly citrusy dessert wine (I'm making it sound less subtle than it is) is more like it.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:53 PM on February 24, 2018

Maybe they are using lousy gin. Lillet is delicious, I don't get birch infusion. One of the ingredients is being traded out, at the disgression of the barkeep.
posted by Oyéah at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lillet is a type of sweet vermouth made with orange zest (among other stuff). It's not at all minty, but it is delicious.
posted by mumimor at 2:11 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I did a little more digging and the recipe appears to be 1.25 vodka, .75 gin, .75 infused lillet blanc. I don't think it's a difference in infusion time; the disparity is just too great. I am now wondering if they are skipping the infusion and just using drops of birch oil (?) since I do seem to recall the second bartender fussing over it more than you'd expect for a very simple recipe. Is there anything else that a bar would stock that would produce such a strong flavor, that an absentminded bartender might mistake for Lillet Blanc? ? It's definitely not peppermint schnapps or crème de menthe-- more complex/weird/bitter. I thought maybe Fernet Branca, since it does sound similar.
posted by acidic at 2:26 PM on February 24, 2018

Traditionally, Vespers were made with Kina Lillet, which had quinine. Lillet stopped manufacturing that formulation in the 1980s, and Lillet Blanc isn't quite the same. Some people will try to recreate the original by using Cocchi Aperitivo, some will add a little cinchona-bark infusion.

I actually found something purporting to be the Arclight's recipe, in looking at this question. They do mention Kina in their Lillet infusion. They also apparently operate on a batch system, which makes sense for a high-volume cinema bar; maybe the times you've had an off experience, the bartender's had to make the drink as a single because they were out of the pre-mix, or tried subbing in the Cocchi because they were out of the infused Lillet?
posted by halation at 2:30 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Birch definitely has a minty sweet sort of flavor. According to my grandfather used to use them as tooth brushes! I know the flavor well because after he told me this as a kid I'd always grab a twig from a birch tree to chew on while I walked through the woods in Western MA.
posted by belau at 3:04 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Birch is a really strong flavor. It's kind of hard to miss. I'm guessing this is what you're calling "minty" but I would not use those terms... I'd say it's more woody, spicy, and slightly bitter, rather than herbaceous like mint. They both might be called "bright".

The simplest explanation is the most likely: the variable here is the different bartenders. One of them (or both) is eyeballing rather than measuring, and is adding too much or too little lillet. I would say the one that tastes like something is more "correct" because there's no point in infusing the lillet if you're not tasting anything.

The way you mix the cocktail will also have a pretty big impact. A highly shaken martini is much more likely to taste "like nothing" because you're melting more ice and diluting the drink. This isn't bad; it's a preference. Highly shaken martinis, while less strong, are colder and smoother due to both the added water and air blended in from shaking. Stirred martinis are stronger, but I would argue lack some drinkability (and deliciousness).

And yeah as halation mentions the original Bond Vesper will have a slightly bitter note, which is what I think they're going for with the birch.
posted by danny the boy at 3:34 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

One time I went to a bar/restaurant that instead of washing the glasses and having them on a metal drying rack behind the bar, just put them upside down on the bar where I guess they just sort of sat in a puddle of water for a while.

One of the drinks I ordered had a strong taste of cleaner which I assumed was from putting the glasses face down on the bar after it had recently been washed/wiped down. I had to send it back.

I don't know what the bar you were at does to wash their glasses, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility that you were actually tasting some kind of cleaner.
posted by cali59 at 7:30 PM on February 24, 2018

Lillet Blanc is citrusy and delicious; birch is woody and delicious (try some birch beer soda if you'd like to get a sense of the taste). However, I have heard Fernet Branca described, by those who don't enjoy it, as tasting like bitter cleaning solution or mouthwash or menthol. Is one of the bartenders getting creative, perhaps with a Fernet rinse (aka, rinsing the glass with a small amount of Fernet before pouring in the cocktail)? This is what the bottle looks like; you could also ask your bartender for a taste or a sniff to see if it matches what you're getting in the cocktail.
posted by ourobouros at 5:30 AM on February 25, 2018

I too thought of Fernet Branca straight away, though possibly because I'm currently sipping a glass of dry white wine with a drop of Fernet in it.

Minty bitter weird mouthwash cleaning solution is a pretty canonical description of it on first taste, and tbh still on nth taste if you think about it too much. I find it does have a distinctly woody note, though for me this has always combined with the mint make me think of Eucalyptus rather than Birch.

It would have to be being used in pretty small amount to keep the drink completely clear, as it's a rather dark red-brown colour.
posted by protorp at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2018

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