Ian Fleming's classic Bondian cocktail, the Vesper, hinges on one, now extinct ingredient: Kina Lillet. Created at the end of the 19th century in France, Kina Lillet was one of the first spirits in the class of quinquinas, wine-based spirits flavored with bitter quinine extracted from cinchona bark. Although the Kina Lillet disappeared sometime in the late 1960s, other Lillet bottlings such as Blanc and Dry retained quinine as an ingredient, making them serviceable replacements for Kina. But then, in 1986, Lillet began production without the all important bittering agent. The aperitifs were saccharine, syrupy, and one-dimensional. As a result, the Vesper suffered and became a shadow of its former self.
Luckily, a newfound appreciation of bitter flavors amongst drinkers and bartenders alike has inspired importers to bring a slew of new quinquinas into the U.S. market, paving the way for a Vesper revival. Now, the classic cocktail can not only be made as it was originally intended, but it has the capability to reach new levels of bitter glory. Here are our favorite substitutions for Kina Lillet.