Friday, December 07, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Aviation

First thing you need to know about this drink: it’s a Rosemarie favorite and tomorrow is her birthday, meaning several of them will be consumed over the course of the gala weekend.

Second thing you need to know: The Aviation’s name can seem like something of a mystery – at least it did to me – because one ingredient may be lacking. The drink was first cited in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916), when those daring young men in their flying machines stirred many a heart. Ensslin called for four components: gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and the violet-hued French liqueur crème de violette. The last element was said to give the drink a bluish color reminiscent of the sky, hence the handle. The first few times I ordered the cocktail, bartenders would apologize for not having violette on hand as they served up a pale but crisply refreshing beverage. Crème de violette became available in the United States again about five years ago but can still be difficult to come by. I’ve sampled Aviations with all four ingredients present and accounted for and can say that violette’s addition gives the drink only a faint purplish tinge, along with an appealing floral scent. The Aviation is just fine sans the supplement, but it’s worth noting that the same three ingredients in slightly different ratios will result in the Allen Cocktail or Allen Special.

Third thing: The Aviation’s revival was not without controversy. A panel at the May 2012 Manhattan Cocktail Classic called “Do Not Resuscitate” targeted once-and-currently-popular drinks that perhaps should have been left in blind pigs shrouded by the mists of time. Éminence grise Dale DeGroff nominated the Aviation, saying “It tastes like hand soap” unless you added crème de violette, in which case “it’s more like hand soap.” The objection didn’t prevent DeGroff from including the drink in his books The Craft of the Cocktail and The Essential Cocktail, although to be fair he never sounds all that enthused about it; his comments in the earlier book are limited to “The Internet cocktail crowd has breathed new life into this chestnut.” Still, almost a century after Ensslin the Aviation has its partisans, among them William Grimes of the New York Times, who called it his favorite forgotten cocktail, and my wife Rosemarie. Did I mention tomorrow is her birthday?

The Aviation

2 oz. gin
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
¼ oz. crème de violette (you probably don’t have any, and that’s OK; you should make the drink anyway)

Shake. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.