Like a lot of my cocktailian friends, the Aviation is one of the drinks that really got me into cocktails a while back. Lured by the appeal of a cocktail with a beautiful pale blue hue, for months (years?) I looked for that elusive bottle of violet liqueur. When I finally put my hands on one, the Aviation became my go-to cocktail for a while and was what I would serve to my friends at cocktail parties. I loved how refreshing and interesting it was, despite having only a few ingredients.
An early effort with Tanqueray gin
The history of the drink is what motivated me to get a copy of Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 book where it was first published. There was also the mystery of the recipe published in the Savoy Cocktail Book which famously omitted the violet liqueur and got a lot of cocktail historians scratching their heads… a typo, most probably.
Violet liqueur is an interesting ingredient. I always imagined that it was distilled from violet petals, but when I did a little bit of reading on the subject last year, I dug up an old French book from 1866, Traité de la fabrication des liqueurs et de la distillation des alcools by Pierre Duplais, that provided a recipe. The liqueur is actually made from the rhizome of the iris plant, orris root, which is frequently used in fragrances as a fixative, and also to flavor certain gins. It is artificially colored with cochineal red and indigo blue.
I’ve been revisiting the Aviation regularly, looking for a gin that works best with the violet liqueur. It’s a tricky combination because the violet can easily overwhelm the drink. In the past, I had been pairing it with juniper-heavy gins such as Tanqueray or Junipero, feeling that you needed something robust to counterbalance the floral exuberance of the violet.
With Dorothy Parker gin, aka The Flower Bomb effect
I tried going in a different direction with Dorothy Parker gin which is quite floral with hibiscus notes, but the end result was a flower bomb – interesting but not really what I want to be drinking.
I decided to give it another go with what is probably the most unusual gin in my home bar, St. George dry rye which has savory caraway and malt notes in addition to what you normally find in a gin. I loved the result. It’s gin-forward and light on the lemon (with the ratios suggested by Adam on eGullet), and ends up being closer to a Martini with interesting accents than to a typical sour. The malty character of the gin is highlighted beautifully in the drink.
Aviation (adapted from Hugo Ensslin)
2.5 oz St. George dry rye gin
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
0.25 oz Rothman & Winter crème de violette
- All About Orris: Harvest in Tuscany, Alcademics, June 2011
- Make your own violet liqueur like Kerry on eGullet