What’s in a Name? The Trilby Cocktail

trilby-6“There is nothing in your mind, nothing in your heart, nothing in your soul but Svengali…Svengali…Svengali!”

George du Maurier’s Trilby, a story of obsession, exploitation, and mesmerism, hit the shelves in 1894 and was only eclipsed when Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published three years later (a story about obsession, exploitation, and mesmerism. Fancy that). Trilby was first performed on stage in the U.S and Britain, then hit the silver screen in 1914 and remade numerous times, the best remembered being the 1931 version starring John Barrymore and Marion Marsh.

trilby-9 The number of recipes with the moniker Trilby is testament to the story’s popularity. The earliest versions I could find date from 1900. The first comes from Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual.

2 dashes Absinthe

2 or 3 dashes Orange Bitters

2 or 3 dashes Parfait d’Amour

½ wine glass Scotch whiskey (1 oz.)

½ wine glass Italian (sweet) vermouth (1 oz.)

Stir up well with a spoon (with ice); strain into a [chilled] cocktail glass, putting in cherries and squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, then serve.

Also from 1900 comes a version from James Maloney’s The 20th Century Guide for Mixing Fancy Drinks. Basically, it’s an early martini with a splash of Crème de Violette thrown in.


Dorothea Baird as Trilby

2 dashes Orange Bitters

2 oz. Old Tom Gin

1 oz. Italian (sweet) Vermouth

Stir well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass with fruit and drop one teaspoonful of Eagle Crème de Violette.

Next is Jack Grohusko’s take on the Trilby from his 1908 Jack’s Manual.

2 dashes Orange Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

½ jigger Tom Gin (1 oz.)

½ jigger Italian (sweet) Vermouth (1 oz.)

Stir well, strain into cocktail glass, add cherry and float Crème Yvette on top.

Pour the Crème Yvette onto the back of a spoon resting against the inside of the glass to float the liqueur.

From the Old Waldorf Bar Days of 1931 comes the following:

1 ½ oz. Old Tom Gin

¾ oz. French (dry) Vermouth

Dash of Crème Yvette

Dash of Orange Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish. The use of French vermouth was supposed to be a compliment to the story’s locale.

The last variant and, to my mind, the most interesting, highlights your favorite dry vermouth. It is a delightful aperitif. I have no clue as to its origin.

3 oz. Dry Vermouth

1 dash Cointreau

1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters

½ oz. Whiskey (floated)

Stir first three ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Carefully float the whiskey on top. Express a lemon peel if using rye or an orange peel if using bourbon over the drink, rub the peel along the rim, and discard.

What’s in a name? Apparently quite a lot. That which we call a Trilby by any other name will get you just as zozzled!