The Aviation – one name, two drinks.
The Aviation is a cocktail that is very close to my heart. I shook up my first one in 1998 in the dying days of The Dark Ages and I’ve made more of these than any other cocktail by a considerable margin. Not because it’s my favourite but because it’s everyone else’s favourite. While, now and then, I might wish my guests would ask for something different I don’t hold it against them as the Aviation is a quite wonderful drink. But it’s a drink with a split personality. Let me explain.
The Aviation is an old drink. Created by Hugo Ensslin in New York and first published in his 1916 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks this would make the Aviation as old as, well, aviation itself. Almost. Clearly Hugo named it after the most exciting new technology of the day. If he was repeating the exercise today this drink would be called the Galaxy S8. Hmmmm. Hugo’s Aviation comprised 1.5oz gin, 0.75oz. lemon juice, 2 dashes maraschino liqueur, and 2 dashes crème de violette (you can consider old school liqueur dashes to be about an eighth of an ounce). Maraschino is an Italian liqueur made from the stones of Marasca cherries and was a common sweetener in early cocktails. Crème de violette is an elusive French liqueur made from violets which is intensely violet and violetty.
As far as we know the Aviation really took off (see what I did there?) after it was included in Harry Craddock’s massively influential Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930. But there was a problem. Harry got the recipe wrong, or perhaps changed it deliberately. Some have theorised that he skipped the crème de violette as it was by then unavailable. That idea doesn’t wash as the recipe right above it contains that very liqueur. Whatever the reason Harry’s two parts gin to one part lemon juice with two dashes of maraschino liqueur (1.5oz, 0.75oz, 0.25oz) became the de facto recipe for another seventy odd years taking us right through The Dark Ages and well into the Revival. By then there was an interest in the old recipe books and Ensslin’s recipe was rediscovered. This was superb timing because, at just about the same time, the long-extinct crème de violette came back on the market. Thus the older recipe was resurrected and behold! the violette bestowed upon it a pale sky blue colour and verily were many palms slapped to many foreheads and much was the word “doh!” to be proclaimed. And some said “This is the true Aviation, returned from seven and seventy years in the wilderness, and all others are but a heresy!” and others said “The Aviation of my fathers and my fathers’ fathers is the True Aviation and we know this for it is the Word of Craddock and is Written in the Book of Craddock!” Some other heretics, who still couldn’t find any crème de violette, used other liqueurs (creme Yvette or parfait d’amour) instead. What a mess!
So now what? Well first up let’s ditch the substitutions – it’s got to be crème de violette or nothing. But the truth is that crème de violette is a powerful and distinctive flavour which not everyone likes and can be quite dominant. I find that if you use enough of it to attain the pleasant sky blue colour it takes over the drink. If you use less of it you end up with a balanced but rather grey looking drink. Of course it could be that another brand of violette might improve matters but the truth is that creme de violette still isn’t that easy to find. In any case my preference is to go with Harry’s recipe and boost the maraschino content to cover the loss of the violette (which left it too tart). Besides, I have another drink that better showcases crème de violette, of which more soon.
The choice is entirely yours but below I present my “house” version which, in my experience, eight out of ten cats prefer.
2oz London dry gin (I like Bombay Sapphire in my Aviation).
1oz fresh lemon juice.
0.75oz maraschino liqueur* (Luxardo).
Shake hard with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Drop in one cocktail cherry†.
Toast Hugo and Harry.
For the 1916 version replace 0.25oz of the maraschino with creme de violette.
*Note that this should never be replaced by other cherry liqueurs or second rate versions. As far as I’m aware only Luxardo or Stock maraschino are up to the job. Thankfully Luxardo is widely available these days.
†We’ll be talking about cocktail cherries soon. Watch this space.