Proposed by: David
Reviewed by: Jonathan
The Aviation cocktail might be described as “Heirloom” in the same way tomatoes are—passed down within families and a little funky. Heirloom tomatoes are recognizably tomatoes but variously colored and bulbously strange—this cocktail is pre-prohibition, mixed in an ordinary, familiar way but strange in its combination of ingredients and flavors.
Apparently (because, once again, I’m relying on someone else’s research) the first manifestation of the Aviation comes from Hugo Ensslin, who offered a recipe for the Aviation in a 1916 work, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. He includes a dash of Crème de Violette as well as Maraschino liquor and one part lemon juice to two parts gin as the complete elements. But Crème de Violette largely disappeared from bartenders’ larders and so the true Aviation vanished as well, replaced by violetteless versions. The heirloom Aviation did not return until Rothman and Winter Crème de Violette reappeared in the US in 2007.
Crème de Violette is certainly funky. The color leads you to expect grape, and, while there’s an understated fruitiness to the liqueur, the taste is really floral. Like lavender and orange blossom, its aroma and taste seem more suited to perfume than food, and it may be an acquired rather than intuitively delicious flavor. Gin adds an herbal or botanical element intended to balance what might otherwise be more flowery than flavorful, and, while taking the violette out of the drink would make it something else, you can understand the impulse to veer toward the mainstream. This drink is strange.
Part of the cocktail’s original appeal must have been visual, as it steers the other parts of the drink toward a lovely opalescent blue-purple, the color of a litmus sky at dusk or dawn. Of course, you can’t drink art, but this cocktail seems aimed to test that assumption. With a cherry sunk in the vortex of martini glass, it’s a lovely concoction however it tastes.
Here’s a recipe:
2 oz. Gin
½ to ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
¼ oz. Crème de Violette
Place a brandied cherry (or Luxardo maraschino cherry) into a well-chilled martini glass. Combine all the ingredients over ice, shake, and strain into the glass.
Here’s Jonathan’s review:
The inspiration for the proposed drink really intrigued me. I am always behind on pop culture and have not seen the show The Blacklist. The idea that we were trying a drink that was created a long time ago and brought back to the fore through an obscure reference in the show was great though.
The other thing that piqued my interest was the use of the two liqueurs, one of which is particularly odd. The maraschino liqueur shows up in a few cocktails, and I had hoped we would find a way to use it if for no other reason than I would be able to have it on hand for some other drinks I had considered. The Creme de Violette is the one I would label odd.
I’m still not sure if it is actually made from flowers of the Alps or is a creation that resembles them, but either way it looks, smells, and tastes like nothing I have ever had.
I have learned from David that it is worthwhile to taste the ingredients separately, especially when they are something new. In this case I didn’t do that until after I made the drink and then I went back to see what each component was like. Both the maraschino and Creme de Violette are interesting (and sweet) on their own with each having a unique assertiveness.
The Aviation invoked a quick thought that derived from its inspiration. That thought was that after Spader’s character ordered the drink and his colleague tasted it she must have quickly exclaimed “Ce n’est pas formidable!” Simply put, I hated it. The color was off-putting even for the color blind, the smell was reminiscent of underwear drawer sachet, and the ingredients clashed with each other. The cliché is that it tasted like cough medicine so I won’t say that, but I will say the best part was that it was soothing to the throat.
Another thing I have noticed as we have considered and tried drinks is that particular brands of liquor are recommended for certain drinks. The Gin of choice in our house is Bombay Sapphire which is very botanical. That may have been a bad choice for this cocktail since it made the clash of flavors even more pronounced.
Jonathan’s take: It’s too easy to say this drink didn’t fly. My fellow tasters, however, challenged me to create a new drink called the Dirigible that would crash and burn worse than this.
David’s take: Hmm… I’m not really sure what I think. This cocktail seemed in every way peculiar to me, a novel taste perhaps, but one I’m unlikely to acquire.
Next week (proposed by Jonathan):
If there is not already a book about the drinks of Hemingway there should be. It could be part travel book, part literary history, and part cocktail guide. The maraschino liqueur will come in handy as we try the Hemingway Daiquiri.