This drink is one of a rare species of cocktail: the type whose ingredients list makes it sound questionable, but which is actually quite delicious. On the surface, the citrusy and slightly medicinal taste of Lillet Blanc doesn’t seem like it’d match up very well with chocolate-flavored liqueur, but don’t knock it until you try it. The Twentieth Century is a fine, slightly tropical, easy-drinking cocktail that’s as well suited to a warm Sunday afternoon as it is a Friday evening at the local cocktail lounge.
Invented in 1937 by a mysterious bartender named C.A. Tuck, the drink was first written about by William J. Tarling in 1937’s Café Royal Cocktail Book. Tarling was the president of the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild, and served as head bartender at the Café Royal1, which one assumes is how he met Mr. (or Ms.) Tuck, information about whom otherwise unfortunately been lost to history.
The drink was named not for the century in which it took place, which by 1937 wouldn’t have seemed all that new and shiny (particularly with Europe rapidly escalating toward World War II). No, it was instead named for The Twentieth Century Limited, a train of significant renown that ran from New York to Chicago from 1902 to 1967. Post-1920, the train was decorated in a distinctive, semi-minimalist Art Deco style, and made popular the practice of having visitors walk up a red carpet to its entrance. In its heyday, before commercial airlines usurped trains’ place as the ultimate long-distance passenger vehicle, it played host to a variety of tremendously famous guests.
How an English bartender came to name a cocktail made predominantly of English and French ingredients after a decidedly American train is a question that will never truly be answered. Alas! Still, C.A. Tuck may be lost to history, but his drink sure isn’t, and I recommend tipping one back in his honor.
Liquors in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.
The Twentieth Century Cocktail Recipe
- Cocktail shaker
- Cocktail Strainer
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon wheel.