This week’s bonus cocktail is a surprise to us. The drink itself is not a surprise, the Aviation is a classic cocktail. But we are surprised it took us so long to post it. We enjoy Aviations as one of our “go to” cocktails at home, and one of our local bars makes a great one. So I guess familiarity bred a touch of contempt.
But there is nothing contemptible about the Aviation. One of the true masterpieces of pre-prohibition mixology, the Aviation combines dry gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and (sometimes) Creme de Violette, a violet liqueur. The drink is the creation of Hugo Ensslin, a bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York. He first published the recipe in 1916 in the book “Recipes for Mixed Drinks”. And the recipe has been published, and tweaked, ever since.
The basics of the recipe, dry gin, lemon juice and maraschino have been constant, but the ratios vary. And then there is the issue of the Creme de Violette. Creme de Violette is a violet liqueur that tastes a lot like violet candies. If you remember violet candy, you may also remember that some people love them, and some hate them. “This tastes like soap” being a common refrain for those in the “hate” category. For a while, this was a non-issue as Creme de Violette was almost impossible to find in the US. But our friends at Haus Alpenz, revivers of all forgotten liqueurs brought it back to life with Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette (remember the Allspice Dram in the Ancient Mariner). And this “new” Creme de Violette is good, sweet, floral and depending on your point of view, perhaps a bit “perfumey” or just downright soapy.
The attraction of using the Creme de Violette is both the flavor and the light blue color it lends to the drink, if you use enough of it. The name of the drink, it is believed, comes from the pale sky-blue color that was so enticing in the early days of aviation. But this is where many mixologists differ. The Savoy Cocktail book, David Wondrich and Gary Regan go without the Violette, the PDT cocktail book includes it. Paul Clarke suggests you simply make the Creme de Violette optional. As it is, we suggest you use the Creme de Violette very sparingly (just a dash, you will still taste it) or omit it altogether.
As a practical matter, very few people have access to Creme de Violette and there is no need to run out and buy it (of course, we did- but we are geeky that way). First, try the recipe without the Violette. You will lose the lovely color, but the botanical flavors of the gin, the bright, sour lemon juice and the sweet, earthy maraschino are a great combination on their own. This is a very tasty cocktail that works in any season and for almost any occasion. And most home bars have gin and lemon juice- and you should have Maraschino (Luxardo is fine) in your bar, as it is an ingredient in literally dozens of classic cocktails. So before you get the Violette, make sure you have maraschino liqueur.
If you do have the Creme de Violette, you can add up to 1/4 ounce to the drink and the color will be quite beautiful. But unless you really like floral and perfumed flavors the drink might be
soapy unpalatable. But a dash or two will add some pleasant flavor and aroma, if you like violets. One other note on the booze- the recipe specifically calls for dry gin. If you use a “modern” gin that features floral botanicals, like Nolet’s, the flavors may not play well together. Traditional London dry gin like Tanqueray, Beefeater or Gordon’s are the best choices for this drink.