Made with only three ingredients, this Grapefruit Lillet Cocktail is the perfect combination of bitter and sweet.
(This Grapefruit Lillet Cocktail recipe was originally published in March 2012, but has been updated with new photos and content in 2020).
If I could only drink one cocktail for the rest of my life, it would probably be grapefruit-based. Not only is grapefruit one of my very favorite foods (for real!), but the juice pairs so well with so many types of alcohol.
This cocktail is a simple one and requires just three ingredients:
- Grapefruit juice (I like to use fresh-squeezed, but you can certainly use store-bought in a pinch)
- Lillet blanc (see more on this below!)
- Vodka (if you're like me, you always have a large bottle of vodka on hand)
This deliciously simple cocktail was inspired by a drink from Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. A place I've never in my life been. But I spotted the recipe on Serious Eats and was immediately attracted to it given the grapefruit juice and the fact it's called The Great Gatsby. Which, you should know, is one of my top 3 favorite books of all time.
When I first made this grapefruit Lillet cocktail back in 2012, I purchased a bottle of Lillet Blanc especially for it. And it quickly became one of the most welcome libations on my bar. Have you enjoyed it before?
What is Lillet Blanc?
If you are unfamiliar with Lillet, I'm happy to share a little bit more with you! It's an aperitif from the Bordeaux region of France that's in the same family as vermouth. Lillet contains wine, orange peel, and quinine, which is what gives it the bitter kick.
There are several different varieties of Lillet and we use Blanc here, which is a little bit sweeter and a little bit less bitter than other types.
While you can add Lillet Blanc to cocktails, it's also said to be quite delightful over ice with a little orange slice. My particular bottle says it's perfect for "those special times when day turns to evening and evening turns to night!" I think that means you're out partying and enjoying your beverages so much that you don't realize the day is flying by? I'll take it.
Also, the bottle makes me happy.
Grapefruit Lillet Cocktail Recipe
So, yes. This cocktail is definitely a bit bitter thanks to the combination of grapefruit and Lillet. I love bitter and this is so up my alley, but definitely keep this in mind if you're not a fan.
To make the cocktail, start by juicing the grapefruit. Note that the color of the grapefruit Lillet cocktail will depend a lot on the color of your grapefruit. My grapefruits were a beautiful bold pink color and when mixed with the orange-y Lillet, my drink ended up a gorgeous shade. However, the first time I made this, my grapefruit were more of a light yellow and the drink was definitely much paler in color. I recommend using ruby red grapefruit for the best color.
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and add grapefruit juice, vodka, and Lillet Blanc. Shake it up and pour into a coup glass (or other small glass). The original recipe recommends garnishing with orange peel (for a little more citrus zestiness), but I opted for a sprig of thyme instead.
And a little tiny grapefruit wedge.
Oh, and I should also mention that I rimmed the cocktail glasses in a little coarse sugar. The sugar helps cut the bitterness of the drink a bit. You don't have to do this, but any time I have an option to sugar a rim, I'm in!
From the first time I made this grapefruit Lillet cocktail, it quickly became one of my very favorite drinks. Even Chris said it was one of the best I've ever made (he loves grapefruit, too!).
I'm not typically a white wine fan, which is why I think I like the fact that the Lillet is added to a cocktail (with vodka!), but I'm actually excited to sit down with a glass of Lillet Blanc on the rocks just to see how I like it. I do love me a good bitter sipper.
And I totally get why the restaurant named this Grapefruit Lillet Cocktail the Great Gatsby. As Frank Stitt told Serious Eats, "...it makes you feel on top of the world, kind of like Gatsby." Agreed.
Next up, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to make Chris James Bond's Vesper with the Lillet. It's a martini consisting of gin, vodka, and lillet. Sounds a little intense to me, but if James Bond can handle it…
Nevermind. I should probably stick to lillet on the rocks or mixed with grapefruit juice and vodka.
Do you enjoy grapefruit cocktails?
Grapefruit Lillet Cocktail
- Coarse sugar, for rim (optional)
- 1 oz. vodka
- 1 oz. lillet blanc
- 2 ½ oz. fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (ruby red preferred)
- Rosemary, for garnish (optional)
- Sprig of thyme or orange peel, for garnish
- If you want a sugared rim, place coarse sugar on a small plate and moisten rim of coup glass (or other small cocktail glass) with a little grapefruit juice. Place glass upside-down on plate to coat rim in sugar.
- Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and add grapefruit juice, vodka, and Lillet Blanc.
- Shake well and pour into prepared glass.
- Garnish cocktail with small grapefruit wedge and a sprig of thyme or orange peel.
- Cocktail recipe adapted from Highlands Bar and Grill via Serious Eats.
- Note: the color of the cocktail will depend a lot on the color of your grapefruit. Use ruby red grapefruit if you want a pinker looking drink rather than a yellow drink.
- If you're in a rush or don't have access to fresh grapefruit, you can use store-bought juice instead.