For this week’s Booktails post, I’m sticking with Around the World in 80 Cocktails by Chad Parkhill, and paying a visit to Chicago, Illinois, not terribly far from last week’s destination of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dating back to 1937, the Twentieth Century cocktail was created by British bartender C.A. Tuck, who borrowed the name of a luxury train line that ran from Chicago to New York in the early part of the 20th century. We don’t associate train service with much in the way of opulence these days, but in the early 1900s it was the only real way for business passengers to travel from one city to next. Air travel was affordable only for the very wealthy. Parkhill tells us that although this created a great deal of competition among the available lines, there was none as glamorous as the Twentieth Century Limited. This particular train line greeted its passengers with such class, in fact, that it actually inspired the idiomatic expressions “rolling out the red carpet” and “red carpet treatment.” This was because the Twentieth Century literally used red carpets to guide its passengers onto its trains. Once aboard, available options included maid, butler, valet, and stenography services throughout the 20-hour journey. In 1938, the locomotive was upgraded to a new and faster design called the Hudson, and the trip time was reduced to 16 hours. At this point the train became known as somewhat of a party spot, with its dining car turning into a nightclub called Cafe Century once dinner service was complete.
Tuck’s cocktail blends together the botanical essence of gin with the bitter, yet sweet, flavor of Lillet Blanc, and the tartness of lemon juice. The unexpected ingredient is white Crème de Cacao, which lends a velvety chocolate smoothness to the drink that transforms it into something far more complex and surprising. The Twentieth Century cocktail fell from grace rather quickly, and would have most likely faded completely into obscurity were it not for Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book. Fortunately that was not the case, and not only did the Twentieth Century experience a resurgence, but Parkhill even sees it as a crucial element in the craft cocktail revival movement. It’s a drink that I’d never had the pleasure of having before. I’m happy to have discovered it, and happy to share it with you. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday!
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with a twisted lemon strip. Enjoy!