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Trilby Cocktail (Vermouth)

The Trilby seems to be another cocktail with something of an identity crisis. I first learned of it from Paul Clark’s article on aperitifs. It wasn’t until I turned to the Savoy Cocktail Book to refresh my memory about the formula and found a recipe I didn’t recognize that I began to suspect that ordering a Trilby in a bar could have unpredictable results.  The Trilby that the Savoy knows is a completely different cocktail, with absinthe and parfait amour utterly changing the taste, and even the color, of the drink.

Trilby Cocktail (Vermouth), photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The Trilby in its vermouth incarnation is light and spicy, completely dominated by the vermouth, and subject to endless variation due to the little float of whiskey that finishes it:

Trilby Cocktail (Vermouth)

  • 3 oz. dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
  • 1 dash Cointreau (Grand Marnier)
  • 1 dash Peychauds bitters
  • ½ oz. whiskey, floated

Stir the first three ingredients with ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Float the whiskey, express and garnish with lemon.

The drink in various guises has been around since before 1900, apparently a celebration of the immense popularity of George duMaurier’s novel of the same name. In addition to the vermouth style listed here, there are variations of the Savoy’s absinthe and parfait amour style, almost-Manhattan bourbon drinks, brandy formulations, and gin formulations all parading under the Trilby flag.

Jamie 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 Trilby.

It’s curious that when whiskies are specified for Trilby, they are bourbon or Scotch, never an Irish for our poor, namesake heroine. I may give Irish a try as I work my way through all these variants. (And I may even read the book, though my college reading of Castle of Otranto pretty much gave me my lifetime dose of the Gothic novel…)

And this something-for-everyone diversity leaves me wondering—which Trilby is most popular?


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