Creator: C.A. Tuck, London
Though created in England, it’s likely that this drink was named after the Twentieth Century Limited, a train that ran from New York’s Grand Central Station to Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station from 1902 until 1967, though perhaps it was merely named after the then relatively-new century. If it was named after the train, it was probably Howard Hawks’ 1934 film Twentieth Century, starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, and which featured Barrymore riding the aforementioned train, that brought it to the attention of the British bartender. The recipe for the 20th Century first surfaces in 1937, in the Café Royal Cocktail Book by William J. Tarling, president of the U.K. Bartenders’ Guild and head bartender at London’s Café Royal.
This is almost certainly the finest of the cocktails created in London during Prohibition, and in my opinion one of the greatest of all cocktails, period. It’s been long overlooked primarily because until recently half its ingredients were unavailable, but you can at last find them all and tasting this drink in its true form can be revelatory in understanding just how massive a difference using the correct ingredients can make in crafting a cocktail. Make this drink with Lillet Blanc and any créme de cacao other than the brand recommended below and the result will be an undrinkable swill; make it correctly and the result is sublime.
The unusual mixture of lemon and chocolate makes for a perfect foil for the botanical nuances of the gin, and the quinine bite of the Kina perfectly rounds out the flavors. Note that the brand suggestions given below are requirements and not suggestions in this case. Tempus Fugit’s is the only palatable créme de cacao currently in existence, and their Kina L’Aero d’Or is likewise the closest to the long-unavailable Kina Lillet. As is often the case with recipes that historically called for Kina Lillet, modern recipes will often incorrectly call for Lillet Blanc in its place. Don’t be fooled. Replacing Kina Lillet in a drink with Lillet Blanc is the equivalent of making a gin and tonic with club soda in lieu of tonic water. While it may be difficult to track down the Tempus Fugit spirits, the search is well worth it for this drink alone, although you can make dozens of other drinks using cacao and kina.
1.5 oz. London Dry Gin
.75 oz. Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aero d’Or
.75 oz. Tempus Fugit Créme de Cacao
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
Directions: Shake vigorously with ice and strain
Glass: Cocktail Coupe
Garnish: Express a lemon peel over the drink, rub it around the rim of the glass, and drop it into the center of the drink.
Tasting Notes: This is a full-bodied, and almost savory cocktail, with a medium finish. The cocoa flavors round out the drink, and mask much of the lemon’s acidity, while the quinine’s bitter snap appears mostly at the finish. The gin’s botanicals are present, but so well mixed by the interplay of flavors that one can be forgiven for not realizing this is a gin cocktail.