The Aviation is one classic cocktail with a schizoid past. Everyone seems to agree now that the first known version of the drink appeared in 1911 in a recipe book written by New York bartender Hugo Ensslin. This original version called for gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and Creme de Violette, a liqueur made from the actual violet flower. It disappeared from American shelves at some point in the decades that followed.
You might think that would be it for the Aviation, but another version also appeared some 19 years in Harry Craddock’s better known Savoy Cocktail Book. This version omitted the Creme de Violette. As the classic era of cocktails passed into history, it became the standard Avaiation cocktail for the few remaining aficionados who cared about such things.
That was not the end of the story because, probably driven by the 21st century cocktail revival, Creme de Violette started to return to some U.S. liquor stores about five years back. A couple of years later, another all-but forgotten violet-based liqueur, Creme Yvette, was recreated and is now served in Aviations made at many a fine bar.
However, for all the years between 1930 and 2007 and even at many bars right now, somehow refined drinkers made and are making do with the not quite original version, which really isn’t bad at all. So, we shall start with the Craddock version and save the Ennslin iteration for later. Note to boozy publicists who might be reading — I await the magical free bottle(s) of Creme de Violette or the (more expensive) Creme Yvette.
The Aviation (Savoy style)
2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce to 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 ounce to 1 ounce maraschino liqueur
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you’re not completely in love with the cocktail, look at something purple.
Please note, once again, that maraschino liqueur. which contains a very interesting combination of sweet cherry flavor but also some subtle bitter notes, should never be confused with the bright red syrup that goes around the highly preserved cherries you can buy at the supermarket. You’ll also note that I’ve wimped out a bit and given you quite a bit of latitude regarding just how much lemon juice and maraschino to use. I have my reasons.
The fact of the matter is that, inspired by the wide variation in recipes I found online, I tried this drink in numerous permutations. While I lean very slightly towards those using a bit less maraschino and somewhat less than the maximum amount of lemon juice (say, 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce), they all turned out very decently. At the same time, none of my Aviations were quite thrilling as if, perhaps, they were maybe missing something. We will see at some future date.
In the meantime, I would like to thank my Facebook friend, Christopher Tafoya, who gave me some very useful pointers. Also, as I assume the Aviation was, at some point, in someone’s mind, connected with the once new and very dangerous phenomenon of human flight, I’m leaving you with a clip from the best film ever about hard-drinking pioneer aviators, Howard Hawks “Only Angels Have Wings,” from the fabled movie year of 1939.
As for the answer to the question in the clip: “Who’s Joe?” Depending on you look at it he’s either Noah Berry, Jr., who later played James Garner’s dad on “The Rockford Files,” or he’s some dead guy in the movie.
Tags: cocktails, Creme de Violette, Creme Yvette, Drink of the Week, Happy Hour, Harry Craddock, Howard Hawks, Hugo Ensslin, James Garrner, maraschino, Noah Berry Jr., Only Angels Have Wings, the Aviation, The Rockford Files, The Savoy Cocktail Book