Aviation Cocktail Recipe
Ah, the Aviation: the cocktail geeks cocktail. Go to a bar and chat with a cocktail enthusiast and this drink will almost inevitably come up in conversation. More and more cocktail lounges and speakeasies are putting this bad boy back on the menu. Even an intrepid group of distillers in the U.S. state of Oregon are now producing Aviation Gin with a clear nod to this noble beverage. Their gin is good too (a review coming soon).
Why do the cocktail cognoscenti love this drink? Simple. The Aviation is a cocktail with pedigree, has a name inspired by history and not one but two less than unusual ingredients: Maraschino Liqueur and Creme Yvette or Crème de Violette. Until somewhat recently, Creme Yvette and Crème de Violette were off the market but now both are back and the Aviation Cocktail can rise again!
The Aviation first appeared in print in a book by New York barman Hugo Ensslin in 1916. The drink called for London Dry Gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and a Crème de Violette as there were a few at that time. The drinks name, The Aviation, was an honor to the burgeoning era of flight that was, literally, taking off at that time. The Wright Brothers first flight was only a handful of years before and it was a time of flight races, barnstormers and air shows. Men had their feet on the ground but their heads in the clouds. Aviation was very much the next big thing. Ensslin’s addition of the mere 1/4 ounce of the dark purple creme de violette gave the drink a sky blue hue which only added to the romance of the idea.
Nowadays, the gin choices are many. I have tried this cocktail with the following gins: Bombay Sapphire, Bombay Dry, Hendricks, Martin Millers, Junipero, No. 209 and Old Tom. I found that it worked in all of them but with very different results. The Old Tom and Bombay Dry were the most straight ahead as they allowed the other ingredients to take the lead. The Junipero, No. 209 and Martin Millers were very clean. The Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks both seemed to add more present botanical notes to this cocktail. I have not, ironically, had Aviation Gin with this although I have enjoyed it straight over ice.
As for lemon juice, fresh is always better. After trying the drink with the Sapphire and Hendricks, I decided to remake it with the juice of a Meyer lemon which is slightly less acidic and significantly more floral in taste. This, while not true to the original is very good and the herbal notes are present but not overbearing. The last addition in this experiment was to muddle a thick sprig or two of fresh thyme in the Meyer lemon juice before straining them off while pouring the juice into the cocktail shaker. This was an unexpected tangent but one I very much recommend.
The liqueurs leave you a few choices. I used the Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur of which I am a fan. For the violet liqueur, I tried both Rothman and Winter’s Crème de Violette and Cooper Spirits’ Crème Yvette and enjoyed them both for different reasons. Crème de Violette is a more pure example of violet liqueur as that is the flavor they are trying to highlight. Crème Yvette, on the other hand, uses a slight infusion of blackberry, strawberry, raspberry and cassis to expand or fortify the violet liqueur. To me the Crème Yvette is the mid point on the road between Crème de Violette and Crème de cassis. Mind you both work very well here. The Crème Yvette is just a bit more lush with fruit.
Side note: for a Bellini like idea, put 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of Crème Yvette in the bottom of a champagne flute and top with Champagne. It is a drink called a Stratosphere and is also pretty to look at and very nice to drink. Great celebratory cocktail.
All of that said, Parfait Amour is sometimes called for by certain bartenders and books. It is a very different liqueur tasting mostly of orange, vanilla and various spices. It does list violets as an ingredient but is definitely not highlighting them in the flavor. I do not recommend Parfait Amour for this drink.
Also, use real maraschino cherries if you can find them. I’ve included a picture so you know what you are looking for. They are bitter sweet Italian cherries that are marinated in maraschino liqueur and sugar and are blood red. They are also really tasty. They should find a home in your bar fridge and use them in place of the bright red almond laced American interlopers served in many a child’s Shirley Temple.
The Aviation Cocktail
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce Crème de Violette or Crème Yvette
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 maraschino cherry
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to combine and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a single maraschino cherry.