The Aviation

There are two main Aviation cocktails. The earlier is a basically a Jack Rose with a dash of absinthe, and may deserve more attention. The later, better-known one (today) is the Ensslin one.

Ensslin’s contains two of the most difficult ingredients in the bar: maraschino and crème de violette. When Craddock ripped off Ensslin’s book in the Savoy, he famously dropped the violette from the Aviation. Both recipes were heavily explored during the Cocktail Renaissance and then perhaps fell from favor.

@libation_legacy’s entertaining appearance on a Monster in a Glass podcast led me to revisit the recipes on Total Mixology, which in turn led me to realize that we don’t really have a definitive recipe or spec for the reclaimed drink.

It seems to me that the original Ensslin or the degenerate (improved, some would argue) Savoy recipe may be as good a recipe as we need, because this is a drink that must be exactingly specified around the dry gin, maraschino and violette (if any) that you are using, lest the results be horrible.

I’m curious about anyone’s thoughts on that? I’m also curious whether anyone has a contemporary spec they really hang their hat on?

Two modern specs I have come from Jim Meehan, and they’re the same except for the dry gin (PDT Cocktails and Meehan’s Manual, respectively):

2 oz Beefeater Gin [or Tanqueray gin]
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz Luxardo maraschino
1/4 oz Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette

I prefer a less maximalist recipe:
2 oz Plymouth gin (if I want the drink a little stronger I’ll go with Ford’s)
1/2 oz lemon juice
scant barspoon (= 1 teaspoon) Luxardo maraschino
1/2 barspoon (= 1/8 oz) Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette

There was a reason Ensslin specified dashes (although he had as much violette as he did maraschino, which to me is just too much violets).

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I like this general direction. I don’t have the book handy, but I recall that Death & Co. uses simple syrup to adjust the sweetness so they don’t have to use a drop more maraschino than absolutely necessary.

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In general I try to avoid adding extra syrup. I’d rather reduce the amount of juice, which I often find excessive anyway.

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It’s been a while since I’ve made this at home — I guess because it really did fall out of favor quickly. (I think not because it’s a bad drink, but because everyone just moved on to more interesting things.)

My primary source of angst has always been the Crème de Violette. On one hand, I really don’t want to exclude it because it seems like it’s an important part of the drink’s identity, and makes it more interesting in any case. My earlier cocktail books were from Haigh and DeGroff, and the latter wrote that the CdV “created a sky-blue drink — hence the name, from the earliest days of aviation.” And yet those books excluded it, because it wasn’t commonly available at the time.

So I bought the Rothman & Winter CdV when it came out and promptly tried it out in an Aviation… but it always turns the drink a dingy grey color, not the appealing “sky-blue” that seems to be a critical part of its identity. And I could never figure out if its primary purpose was to add color or flavor. (I mean, probably both, but is one of those secondary?)

It’s like the grenadine problem. I think grenadine is more often used for its flavor, so I try to use the good stuff regardless of how it looks. But there is still a recipe or two where I surmise that it’s just there to add color, in which case I might use the bright red Rose’s stuff.

Anyhow, to summarize: I love the idea of a sky-blue Aviation, but I haven’t yet seen one. And as long as it’s making my cocktail look like dishwater, I can’t think too hard about the role its flavor has in the drink.

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I just made something close to a Wondrich Aviation, although I left out the violette, because I currently have none (and prefer it that way), and I used Hayman’s Old Tom in place of Plymouth. One teaspoon of maraschino is plenty for me: the maraschino is clearly present, but the drink has not become—as @slkinsey put’s it—a “maraschino sour” (yick!).

The 1/2 oz of lemon juice, as opposed to the more “typical” 3/4–1 oz, is very interesting to me. The smaller dose of acid in the drink is instantly obvious in the taste, and takes me straight back to this discussion.

Same problem with the Jupiter and its Parfait Amour constituent. The drink either looks like dirty dishwater, or it has way WAY too much of the floral liqueur in it. Blue food coloring has been proposed. Unfortunately, we don’t get to ask Ensslin what he really had in mind.

Historically, I’m pretty sure grenadine was mainly used for anything but color and sweetening. In the last couple decades, we’ve been basically been trying to insert pomegranate syrup in its place. And yeah, if you want the color, you have to use fresh pomegranate juice in your syrup, or reach for the artificial stuff.

I do quasi-regularly still make this, but the selection of creme de violette is crucial, and changes the drink based on the brand. Sadly, in Paris, I’m basically limited to Giffard; the best of very slim options here.

I go even more aggressive on the juice, just 1/4 oz. Basically, I start making my version of a Casino and, when I get to the Maraschino last, I ask my partner if she’d prefer that, or is in the mood for an Aviation. If so, I just split the Maraschino with the Violette and drop in a cherry. This ends up with an Aviation with orange bitters. I find it rounds out the funky flavor of the Maraschino a bit.

I’ve always found that, when made properly, this drink reminds me of Smarties candy. Slightly sweet, slightly floral, slightly citrus and a pale sky blue.

John’s Aviation
2 oz / 60ml Beefeater Gin (don’t get me started on finding Old Tom in Paris)
.25 oz / 7.5ml Luxardo Maraschino
.25 oz / 7.5ml Giffard Crème de Violette
.25 oz / 7.5ml Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
Cherry and/or Lemon Twist
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I cannot recall whether I’ve ever made an Ensslin’s Casino Cocktail. It’s pretty good! And yes, I do think those bitters are running some interference. Interesting!

Back to the Aviation, I bet that dialing back the lemon juice as far as possible is a sure way to improve the color effect of the violette.

Yes, the Casino pops up in the rotation fairly regularly here. My modifications are pretty simple, just halving the juice/liqueur. I completely forgot that it was also intended to have a cherry. That will make my girlfriend very happy.

The Aviation’s overall color is definitely improved by less juice and also by the fact that I always prefer stirring to shaking (when not required).

We do want to get some calvados and try the first one.

The earlier Aviation is, of course, pretty much a Jack Rose with a dash of absinthe, although the Straub recipe seems to call for a disturbing proportion of lime juice. I highly recommend grabbing a pomegranate and making a fresh (uncooked) pomegranate syrup for the grenadine.

I agree with @slye that taste and color feel at odds with this drink. In the latter years of the cocktail renaissance that correspond with the rise of social media, I suspect there are quite a few blue Aviations getting likes and reposts that would suck to drink (or that owe their popularity to aggressive photo editing). I landed on 2/.5/.5/teaspoon proportions as workable (London dry and R&W), but I rarely make it since there are more appealing drinks that use these ingredients.

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Whether or not one enjoys any of version of the drink, there seems to be a pervasive presumption that the Ensslin Aviation must be sky blue—or something along those lines. Often, there seems to be subtext that one cannot justify the crème de violette in the drink unless it achieves this coloration (i.e., the violette is only there for color). Let’s go back to Ensslin:

I see a (rather dry) gin sour cocktail with two dashes each of maraschino and violette. Ensslin offers no further guidance.

Where in the historical record is there any basis for the notion that, through some secret categorical system, a dash of one kind of ingredient is around 1/8 tsp while a dash of another kind of ingredient is as much as 1/8 oz (six times more)? I think we have no choice but to accept that dashes are a discretionary quantity, but as far as I can see, a dash is still a very small quantity. Indeed, the only smaller volumetric quantity in mixology is a drop, which is a rare unit deployed where a dash is still just way too much. Both dashes and drops are usually employed for ingredients than can readily take over a drink. You might dash gently, or you might dash vigorously, or you might dash 2-3 times because you intuitively know the drink will need it, or you might use a bar spoon because you feel that gives you better control, but it’s still a very small quantity.

Two good dashes of violette (~1/4 tsp) are not going to turn any normal-sized cocktail sky blue unless the violette contains an astronomical quantity of food coloring. For (modern) comparison, Haus Alpenz’ own recipe for the Aviation calls for a full 1/4 oz (six times more than 1/4 tsp) of Rothman & Winter, and that only achieves a milky violet (not blue) hue.

I just don’t see any robust reason to presume the Ensslin Aviation was a particularly blue drink. More likely, I think it was a pale gin sour with a hint of maraschino and a hint of… “violet”… or whatever crème de violette actually tasted like in New York around 1915. “Dirty dishwasher that tastes like hand soap” seems to still be in the running. (Note that the earlier Straub Aviation was pinkish from grenadine.)

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El Bart gin is back, btw….

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Intriguing, but what is really going on with this reissue, and what is this 40º bullshit?