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The 20th Century Cocktail–and Variations Thereof

Posted on | May 6, 2015 | Written by Julia Punj | No Comments

FullSizeRenderThis is the kind of trouble a cocktail aficionado will encounter. At a premier cocktail bar in Aspen, I recently got into a heated argument with a stubborn bartender. I had ordered a 20th Century Cocktail; he gave me a 20th Century Julep. When I pointed out the mistake, he argued with me that what he’d poured was, in fact, a 20th Century Cocktail. He thought he was right because his bar has only a 20th Century Julep on the menu, and he didn’t know that it was a variation on a classic cocktail.

Understandable—except, in my opinion, if you have a variation of a cocktail on the menu, you should know how to make the original.

The 20th Century Cocktail is a relatively simple drink; it’s easy to execute and absolutely delicious. However, it is by no means a popular modern cocktail like the Negroni. You would be hard pressed to find it on a standard cocktail menu, or a bartender who knows what it is outside of a mixology bar. So for the edification of the gentleman in question and for cocktail drinkers in general, may I present: The 20th Century Cocktail–and Variations Thereof.

The 20th Century cocktail was invented by C.A Tuck in the 1937 in honor of the Twentieth Century Limited Train. The first publication was in the “Café Royal Cocktail Book” published in 1937. The original recipe reads like this:

1/3 gill of gin

1/6 gill of light crème de cacao

1/6 gill of Kina Lillet

1/6 gill of fresh lemon juice.

Translated to modern mixology this is:

2 parts Gin

1 part Lillet Blanc

1 part Crème de cacao

1 part Lemon Juice

Shake these ingredients, strain it into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon. Easy.

Four ingredients comprise this fabulous cocktail that tastes like the best bite of a beautiful dessert end to a perfect meal: Lemon, chocolate, a hint of sweetness, and notes of flowers and citrus from the gin. Variations can be found by replacing one or two ingredients; house made crème de cacao for Bols, Cocchi Americano for Lillet Blanc (which is actually closer to Kina Lillet than modern Lillet), or even Dolin Blanc (my favorite twist). My go-to bar in Vancouver, The Pourhouse, would even add an egg white for froth and body. These are all simple variations that do not change the cocktail, but there are also variations that have made it to the mainstream cocktail scene.

The 21st Century Cocktail is made with tequila blanco for gin, and a wash of absinthe replaces the Lillet blanc. It’s a phenomenal cocktail I discovered at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London when a waiter misheard my order. Another variation popular in Aspen Colorado is the 20th Century Julep. This refreshing cocktail incorporates mint over crushed ice to make a twist on the Mint Julep. In researching this blog, I spoke with Joshua Peter Smith the creator of the 20th Century Julep, and formerly of Justice Show’s in Aspen Colorado. I asked him how he took the 20th from Cocktail to Julep.

Smith said, “The 20th Century Julep was a very simple leap. Let’s start with one of my favorite classic gin-based cocktails of all time: the20th Century. Built and designed with similar ingredient tabulation as the Corpse Reviver #2, but 7 years later, structure wise, making it very sound. Now, with its bright lemon notes, crisp gin freshness, notes of Lillet Blanc’s floral and earthy flavors and the roundness and pronounced flavors of creme de cacao, this cocktail needed only three more things to make it the perfect summertime patio pounder: mint, crushed ice, and a frosty julep tin. We all know that chocolate and mint are one of the most sought after pleasure pairings, so my leap to take my favorite classic and make it even more approachable, was an easy one.”

And he is right; this is a perfect refreshing, porch-pounder drink. The mint marries well with the crème de cacao, the floral notes of the Lillet are perfectly balanced with the gin and the cocktail is defiantly approachable, especially for non-gin drinkers. It’s a gorgeous drink, and well deserved of its popularity in Aspen.

The 20th Century is by far my favorite cocktail, and as in all things, I’m particular about its execution. I like mine a bit more chocolaty than most, but I don’t like it sweet. My favorite variation is my own recipe, not traditional, but not too far off:

1 ¼ oz Hayman’s London Dry Gin

¾ oz Dolin Blanc

½ oz lemon juice crème de cacao

½ oz fresh squeezed lemon juice

Shake with ice, strain into a coupe, garnish with mint.

So the next time you are in the presence of a knowledgeable bartender, try this balanced and delicious classic cocktail. It may replace your current go-to summertime sipper, assuming your mixologist knows how to make it.


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