Spring has arrived and although it can still be a bit chilly, we’re getting a glimpse of what’s to come—clear blue skies, mild days, and, of course, refreshing cocktails. On that note, let us extol the virtues of the Aviation Cocktail. But first, a little history. It first appeared in print in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks containing four ingredients: gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and crème de violette. It is this last ingredient that lends the drink a pale pale pale sky-blue hue, ergo the moniker “Aviation.” Over the years however, especially in The Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930, we see that crème de violette is left out of the drink since it was difficult for many bartenders to find.
On a side note, we’ve talked about crème de violette on “Buzzings” recently—it’s redolence is unmistakably floral. It’s not called crème de violette for nothing. Just a little bit can change the entire flavor profile of a drink. We use a fairly good amount of it in a Marianne at Midnight, an after-dinner drink in which the violet stands up to the strong peaty taste of scotch and the dark caramel notes in the Italian liqueur Tuaca. But since gin is more delicate than scotch, and its nose and flavor are already botanical, only a small amount is called for in an Aviation.
So, getting back to our history lesson, during those lean decades, when the reality of reading a recipe that called for crème de violette was just a tease, we had to settle for Aviations without it. No pale blue color, no slightly floral whiff. Just the delicious melding of sour lemon juice, bittersweet maraschino cherry liqueur, and junipery gin.
creme de violette
But behold, the Aviation has returned to its roots; now that the violet liqueur has resurged, we can enjoy the Aviation in its original splendor. Drop a maraschino cherry in it. It will look even prettier. (Even though bright-red maraschino cherries are considered gauche at this enlightened moment in Cocktail (and culinary) history, and although we are not big fans of them, we say fu@k it. You don’t have to eat it. Just let it sit on the bottom of your coupe. Every time you take a sip, pretend there is a treasure awaiting you once you reach the bottom. And by the time you do reach the bottom, you will have forgotten everything there is to know about the Aviation and not care a lick that a glowing red orb is staring back at you. (By then, you might eat it too.)
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 1/2 teaspoon crème de violette*
maraschino cherry, as garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice and add all the liquid ingredients. Shake for 15 seconds and strain (or double strain for a smoother drink) into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
* If you cannot find crème de violette, you can, alas, omit it.
For a slight variation, we add Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine to the gin and rechristen it the Kitty Hawk, in honor of, what else, the Wright Brothers, and because Piedmont Distillers, the makers of Catdaddy, are North Carolinian as well. The Catdaddy, with hints of cake frosting, or perhaps flan, adds a sweetness that is only hinted at in an Aviation. We’ve swapped out a maraschino cherry for one that’s boozy—a brandied cherry. For extra credit, try making some cocktail cherries with Catdaddy and spices that will complement the uniqueness of this flavored Carolina Moonshine, such as vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 tsp. maraschino liqueur
1 tsp. crème de violette
brandied cherry, as garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice and add all the liquid ingredients. Shake for 15 seconds and strain (or double strain for a smoother drink) into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
Either way you like your sweet and sours, both of these drinks pair well with a variety of party food, from oysters to mini fish sandwiches to salty chips with dip. The world is your cornucopia. Have some fun and experiment before the spring is over with a cocktail party that takes flight with Aviations and Kitty Hawks.