Retooling cocktails has been a solid mixological strategy since the dawn of professional bartending. Many a contemporary classic is simply a modified version of an earlier drink, an adaptation that often eclipses the original. Our beloved margarita, likely a mexicanized variant of the nineteenth-century daisy, exemplifies this.
Such remixing is on display at Drink.Well, where owner Jessica Sanders has given a pre–World War II cocktail called the Twentieth Century a modern Texas spin. Credited to a British bartender named C. A. Tuck, the drink was named in honor of the 20th Century Limited—a high-speed marvel connecting New York to Chicago—and it consisted of gin, Lillet, crème de cacao, and lemon. In the Siglo Veinte, the gin is replaced by Wahaka Joven Espadín, an un-aged mezcal made according to traditional techniques. If that ancient spirit brings to mind a bottle of lighter fluid with a worm at the bottom and an unfortunate night in Boys Town, it’s time to reacquaint yourself. The forebear of tequila, mezcal is made by roasting agave hearts over live coals in earthen pit ovens. Recent years have brought numerous artisanal bottlings to market, and the best deliver an elixir that’s smoky, wild, almost primordial.
Standing in for the Lillet is Ancho Reyes, a chile liqueur with notes of cinnamon, cacao, and vanilla (given Texans’ love affair with spice, it is fitting that ours is one of the few markets where this product is being launched). The final key ingredient is the crème de cacao, one of those unfortunate spirits that has become a determined star of the bottom shelf—artificial and lacking anything resembling nuance. The Siglo Veinte employs a natural crème de cacao made by California’s Tempus Fugit, and the result is stunning: sweet, smoky, and spicy, all balanced by the brightness of fresh lemon. It is a twentieth-century cocktail updated for the twenty-first, and a perfect tipple for wintertime in Texas.
David Alan is a writer in Austin.