TotC: The Trouble with Trilbies

And at long last, we continue the gluttony of Tales of the Cocktail posts.

Drink number eight of our Tales of the Cocktail roundup will be brought to you by cocktail historian Jared Brown. To see the beginning of the Tales of the Cocktail posts, click here or just go to the Tales of the Cocktail Category to see all of the posts.

I had first met Jared when he was with his better half, Anistatia, at Gary Regan’s incredibly fun Cocktails in the Country (if you haven’t been, look into it). We had a great time making (and drinking) cocktails, and he taught me some of the finer points of photography (for example which direction the lens is supposed to be facing) as I had just purchased my first SLR camera and he was a bit of a shutterbug himself.

When I saw him at Tales, it was as though we hadn’t missed a beat, and he brought me up to date on his enviable project of cataloging thousands of bottles of obscure spirits in the south of France. From the sounds of things it looks like I’m going to have to make a trip down to the Ile de Bendor in the near future, as he plans on having the job done by early spring, and I’ll jump at any chance to see what a bottle of acid phosphate or Hercules looks like in person.

As things go at Tales, people pass in and out through your day as you meet and leave to go to different seminars and events, and so, in brief moments, at events such as in the suite that the Fabulous Shaker Boys and Sonnema had, we hung out, met other cocktail geeks (like cocktail nerds, but geeks get stuff done) and had a blast.

It wasn’t all fun and games however, for Jared had seminars to present (Enter the Distologist and How to Conduct a Home Tasting), and, most importantly (to me anyway), drinks to pour. It was during the Cocktail Hour, with the room buzzing with hundreds upon hundreds of bar folk and bar flies getting served drinks by the Cocktail Illuminati, that an interesting conversation started up.

Jared was serving a Trilby, a cocktail that I had seen in passing but never really paid much attention to, probably because it didn’t look interesting enough for me to try out.

“A Trilby, eh?” My Canadian heritage tends to slip out whenever I have a few cocktails in me.

Jared stopped talking to Robert Hess (who should’ve been making drinks at his own station, but was playing a bit of hooky). “Yeah, have you ever had one?”

“Can’t say that I have”, was the quick response, but my mind was reeling through the Filofax of cocktail recipes in my head, trying to remember what the hell a Trilby was.

“Have you ever made a Manhattan with orange bitters?” Jared asked, before I could figure out if I knew the recipe.

“Of course! A great drink, but rarely is there a variation of the Manhattan that I don’t like.”

“Well”, he responded with Drinkboy looking on, nodding his head, “you’ve had a Trilby then!”

Dammit! I should know a recipe like that, after all I know what a Montgomery, FDR, Kangaroo Kicker, Astoria and most of the other subtle Martini variations are, why didn’t my tiny noggin register something as simple as a Manhattan with orange bitters? I drank my Trilby, (mighty damn tasty too, by the way), thanked Jared and vowed to figure out why I wasn’t aware of this cocktail.

When I got back home from Tales, I got to the task of finding out more about the Trilby, as it had been irking me since Jared first introduced it to me.

A quick google later, I discovered that it was named after George du Maurier’s 1894 gothic horror play whose most famous character is Svengali. Yes, that Svengali. It was after the play that the trilby hat was named, when it was worn during that play’s first London production. Inspector Clouseau was famous for his trilby, in case you don’t recall what a trilby looks like.

As for the Trilby cocktail, it was easy enough to find online, but it amazed me that I didn’t recall this Manhattan variation in any of my cocktail literature. There was only one thing to do, so I went to the Bookshelf, and started combing through my books. The Trilby was there all right, but not in the recipe that I was expecting.

So here we go, Jared’s excellent cocktail, followed by my mad desire to figure out where it came from, otherwise known as: Will the real Mr. Trilby please stand up?

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY (Jared’s version)
1 ¾ oz Bulleit Bourbon
¾ oz Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters No.6

stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with an orange twist
……………………………………………………………………………………

So the search began to find Jared’s Trilby. Knowing that it wasn’t in Jerry Thomas’ book, I started with the next oldest book in my library…..

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL
(Harry Johnson’s version, 1900)
fill up with shaved ice;
2 dashes absinthe
2-3 dashes orange bitters
2-3 dashes Parfait d’Amour
½ wine glass Scotch
½ wine glass Italian vermouth

stir up well with a spoon;
strain into a cocktail glass,
putting in cherries, and squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top,
then serve

……………………………………………………………………………………

For those who can’t seem to get enough acid phosphate into their drinks, came this little treat from Boston….

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL
(The Cocktail Book, A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen, 1900)
Three dashes orange bitters;
three dashes acid phosphate;
two-thirds whiskey;
one-third Calisaya.

Fill with ice, mix, and strain into a cocktail glass
……………………………………………………………………………………

Having failed there, I knew that our other favorite Harry might have the answer, or in this case two….

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL No. 1
(Harry Craddock’s version, 1930)
2 dashes orange bitters
½ Italian vermouth
½ dry gin

shake well and strain into a cocktail glass
……………………………………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL No. 2
(Harry Craddock’s version, 1930)
2 dashes absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1/3 Parfait Amour
1/3 Scotch whisky
1/3 Italian vermouth

shake well and strain into a cocktail glass
……………………………………………………………………………………

Mr. Crockett mentions that his version of the Trilby was drunk during the days of the Waldorf sit-down Bar….

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY (Albert Stevens Crockett’s version)
dash of orange bitters
one-third French vermouth
two-thirds Tom gin
one dash Crème Yvette

stir
……………………………………………………………………………………

Still digging, in hopes of finding Jared’s resource, Mr. Duffy, a practicing bartender from pre-prohibition days, came a calling….

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL No. 1
(Patrick Gavin Duffy’s version, 1934)
½ gin
½ Italian vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

shake well with cracked ice, strain into glass,
float a little Crème Yvette on top and serve
……………………………………………………………………………………

and then, if there ever was a doubt that Mr. Duffy “borrowed” liberally from Cradock’s Savoy….

 

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY COCKTAIL No. 2
(Patrick Gavin Duffy’s version, 1934)
2 dashes absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1/3 Parfait Amour Liqueur
1/3 Scotch whiskey
1/3 Italian vermouth

stir well in ice and strain into glass
……………………………………………………………………………………

and then finally, eureka, from Old Mr. Boston’s Official Bartenders Guide, circa 1935, a book I rarely look in (why I don’t know) we find American whiskey and vermouth!

……………………………………………………………………………………
TRILBY (Old Mr. Boston’s version, 1935)
2/3 Old Mr. Boston whiskey
1/3 Italian vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

shake well with crushed ice and
strain into a 3 oz Cocktail glass
……………………………………………………………………………………

 

Methinks that next time, I’ll just ask Jared where his source came from.

 

 

Jared Brown

Picture taken by:
Jamie Boudreau
www.vesselseattle.com

.

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~ by Jamie Boudreau on August 17, 2007.

9 Responses to “TotC: The Trouble with Trilbies”

  1. You’re of course forgetting the vermouth-based Trilby:

    3 oz dry vermouth
    1 dash Cointreau
    1 dash Peychaud’s
    1/2 ounce whiskey (no type specified)
    Stir everything except whiskey and strain into chilled cocktail glass; float the whiskey, and hit it with a lemon twist.

    I got the recipe from William Grimes’ Straight Up or On the Rocks; I have no idea where he got it. Damn tasty, though.

  2. Then there is the Trilby Cocktail from Lawlor’s “Mixicologist” from 1895:

    Fill with shaved ice:
    2 dashes raspberry syrup
    1/3 jigger vermouth
    2/3 fine brandy
    1 dash orange bitters

    Stir well, and strain in into tall, fancy glass, with fruit in season.

  3. Hi Jamie,

    OK — here’s my version of cocktail geekery, late to the party and heavy on the literature.

    Shouldn’t she be “Miss Trilby”? ;) Trilby was the girl seduced by Svengali, an innocent French/English maidservant with a nicely turned foot and a wretched voice. Svengali mesmerizes her and turns her into a diva. Trilby was indeed made into a play (and movie) but it started its life as a novel (that’s the one by Du Maurier in 1894), and was so popular in its day that it’s been called the first bestseller. I wonder if these cocktails arose completely independently of each other, since they’re so different and Trilby’s popularity in various media over several decades would have made her popular all over again to new generations.

    The novel was meant to show a bit of the French bohemian high life to the English audience, and has copious descriptions of food and drink from the fin-de-siecle. I was curious, so I took a look to see if any of these liqueurs/liquors were mentioned.

    Hrm, not too many. The three Englishmen who are the focus of the book drink wine and are fond of rum, both in punch and straight up. They also enjoy a “ratafia de cassis,” elsewhere described as a blackcurrant brandy. There’s this description of a Christmas dinner, however, that seems to include every concoction under the sun:

    “Wines and spirits and English beers were procured at great cost from M. E. Delevingne’s, in the Rue St. Honore, and liqueurs of every description–chartreuse, curacoa [i.e., curacao], ratafia de cassis, and anisette; no expense was spared.”

    No vermouth, no absinthe, no raspberry syrup though.

    For the record, Svengali is a gin-drinker. Trilby? She swills coffee like it’s no one’s business.

  4. Eugenia:
    You have waaaaaay too much time on your hands….
    And it was an Eminem reference.
    ;-P

  5. I’m a graduate student, of course I have too much time on my hands. And Eminem *and* Star Trek? Oh dear. ;)

  6. Mr. Boudreau,
    Regarding M´r. Boston´s recipe for a Trilby. Don´t you think is not surprise that they called for american whiskey, since they always tried to adapt almost every cocktail for using one of their products?

  7. [...] Boudreau seems to have saved us a lot of research on this drink—he did an extensive survey of Trilby history and recipes that appears to be the mother lode of all things [...]

  8. […] cocktail seems to be a rather enigmatic figure. Not that its history is obscure: according to Jamie Boudreau, the drink (along with a hat) was named for a 1984 play and novel by George du Maurier. Cocktail […]

  9. My name is Trilby — a very old fashioned name that I spell regularly! I’d never heard of a Trilby cocktail — the hat yes, the sandwich yes, foxhounds and canaries, yes, but not the cocktail. I thoroughly enjoyed the dialog about the various recipes and I plan to try the them. Thanks! Trilby S.

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