The Aviation Cocktail

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When I started looking back at the old, pre-prohibition cocktails, the Aviation was one of the first I wanted to try.  Besides the association with vintage aircraft, the cocktail was blue! 

Or was it?

The first recipe I saw had nothing in it to turn it blue, not even food coloring (not that I advocate the use of artificial coloring in drinks).  One has to dig a little farther into the past to unravel the confusion.  The drink first appeared in Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo Ensslin, printed in 1916.  The recipe contained an ingredient of which I was not familiar: Creme de Violette.  Sounds like something that could turn the drink blue, or at least a nice shade of purple.  The question was why it was later dropped from the recipe.

As it turns out, Creme de Violette went out of fashion after Prohibition (that little experiment was bad in so many ways) so was simply dropped from the recipes and, eventually, the drink faded into obscurity.  But Creme de Violette is available again, so the Aviation Cocktail can take to the skies once again

All this was moot, of course, because my local, state-run liquor stores didn’t carry Creme de Violette.  So I bided my time, wondering if I would ever have my desired Aviation cocktail.  Then, one day, lo and behold, what did I see on my liquor store’s shelf but a bottle of the elusive violet liqueur.  I snatched it up so fast I almost dropped it.  I carefully walked to the counter and purchased the mythical elixir, making sure the clerk double-bagged it.  I got it home and placed it reverently on the sideboard, admiring the tall, cylindrical bottle with the Art Deco style label.

I have seen so many different recipes for this drink that I sometimes loose track which drink I am researching.  Crème de Violette.  No Crème de Violette.  More Maraschino.  Less lemon.  And, no, Crème Yvette is not a substitute for Crème de Violette.  The taste profiles are very different.  And for god’s sake, do not even think about using blue curacao!

Which brings up another point: when has a drink recipe strayed so far from the original that it should no longer be considered the same drink?  Hm….that one’s tough.  Tastes change over time.  The trend now in craft bartending seems to be towards slightly drier drinks with an emphasis on the base spirit.  I don’t have a problem with this.  I like to taste the rum in my daiquiri.  Tweaking the proportions is one thing; however I came across one Aviation recipe that substituted apricot brandy for the Crème de Violette.  Ok, that’s too far.  You’ve now made a different drink.  I also found an Aviation “variation” that was equal parts bourbon and grape juice!  How, in anyone’s world, is that a variation of the Aviation?  On top of that, it just sounds gross.

Hugo Ensslin’s original 1916 cocktail:

1/3 Lemon (1 oz)

2/3 Gin (2 oz)

2 dashes Maraschino Liqueur ( ½ tsp)

2 dashes Crème de Violette ( ½ tsp)

Shake well with cracked ice, strain and serve.

Notice that no garnish is called for.  As written, this drink is too sour to my taste.

The modern equivalent:

2 oz Gin (London dry)

1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

1/4 oz Maraschino Liqueur

1/4 oz Crème de Violette

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Cherry garnish optional.

Is it the same drink as the original?  Not exactly, but the not-too-extreme adjustments to the proportions do not, I think, constitute a different drink.  Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

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