For our next stop on the Around the World in 50 Classic Cocktails tour, we're soaring over the seas to discover the birthplace of the Aviation.
When you hear “Aviation,” imagine yourself back in the early 20th century: when the Wright Brothers took off from Kitty Hawk, when Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were globetrotting celebrities, when air travel was still a thing of magic and glamour, and when we were all seduced by the romance of the great blue yonder. It was in this context that the Aviation was born – and though this cocktail became little more than a footnote in drinks history by the late 20th century, its recent revival has given the classic a new lease on life.
The history of the Aviation can be traced back to one man: Hugo Ensslin, who worked as the head bartender at New York’s Hotel Wallick. His 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks – one of the last cocktail tomes to be compiled before the start of US Prohibition in 1920 – is the first place the recipe was set down. Why did he decide to call his invention “the Aviation”? That’s down to the cocktail’s most essential ingredient – crème de violette, or violet liqueur.
Not only does the crème de violette add floral sweetness and complexity, it also makes for a cocktail of a celestial periwinkle blue. When made with crème de violette, the Aviation is a drink of perfect balance and beauty, both visually and on the palate.
Unfortunately, though, as the recipe for the Aviation evolved, the crème de violette was eventually left behind. The first culprit was Harry Craddock who, in his 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, published a similar recipe to Ensslin’s…sans the crème de violette. From then on, the drink came to consist of gin, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur. From a deliciously delicate, floral cocktail, the Aviation became little more than a gin sour.
It also didn’t help that, after Prohibition, the demand for crème de violette in the United States shrank. By the 1960s, the ingredient was virtually impossible to source. Without its signature ingredient, the no-longer-blue Aviation fell out of favour.
Happily, modern cocktail culture has led to the return of both crème de violette and the Aviation itself. The former was revived in 2007, when Rothman & Winter’s crème de violette, made with violets grown in the Austrian Alps, was internationally distributed. With new access and availability, bartenders began to revive historic recipes featuring the ingredient.
While home bartenders may write off crème de violette as an obscure ingredient, do not dare to make this serve without it. An Aviation absent of crème de violette is simply no Aviation at all.
10ml maraschino liqueur
15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml crème de violette
Add all ingredients to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake until well mixed and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish by dropping a Luxardo cherry into the base of the glass (please, no neon-red bar cherries – they’re not nearly as delicious!)