Crème de cacao might sound like a surprising ingredient in an aperitif—but sip a Twentieth Century and you’ll quickly discover how delectable and refreshing it can be when paired with gin.
The Twentieth Century is full of surprises. For starters: unlike nearly all classic cocktails, its origin story is mostly straightforward. It was created in 1939 by C.A. Tuck, a British bartender who worked behind the stick at London’s Piccadilly Hotel for 17 years.
While Tuck himself remains something of a mystery—little of him is known apart from this drink, plus an obscure cocktail book he published in 1967—the inspiration behind the Twentieth Century is clear. As with the Alexander (another cocktail featuring crème de cacao, coincidentally), this drink is indelibly associated with train travel.
The Twentieth Century Limited train was an express passenger line that ran between New York and Chicago from 1902 to 1967. At the time, it was described as “the world’s greatest train” and had a reputation for luxury: upon arrival, customers were ushered aboard via a red carpet. The train was also immortalized in the 1934 film Twentieth Century, which starred John Berryman. In 1938, the Twentieth Century was given a widely publicised, Art-Deco-style makeover; it’s thought that Tuck created his drink shortly after, perhaps to capitalise on publicity surrounding the event.
That brings us to Tuck’s recipe. The Twentieth Century is often described as a twist on Harry Craddock’s better-known Corpse Reviver No. 2, absent the Cointreau and the absinthe. On paper, it sounds like a bizarre combination of ingredients that shouldn’t work together: white crème de cacao, normally reserved for cream-based digestifs, here pairs with gin, dry vermouth, and lemon juice. In the glass, however, it’s a different story. The Twentieth Century is beguiling: velvety, rich, but still bright with citrus.
Following the recipe’s inclusion in William J. Tarling’s The Café Royal Cocktail Book in 1937, the Twentieth Century fell into obscurity, where it languished until the start of a whole new century: Gary Regan first included it in 2003’s Joy of Mixology, and Ted Haigh published it in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004.
It was a lucky rediscovery for sippers everywhere. While the Twentieth Century is still decidedly obscure, its bright flavours and refreshing piquancy make it the perfect serve to enjoy during your Summer of Sipping.
The Twentieth Century
25ml Lillet Blanc
25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
15ml white crème de cacao
Lemon twist, to garnish
Fill a shaker with ice and add all ingredients. Shake well and double-strain into a chilled Martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.