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The Aviation, The Rise And Fall Of History’s Most Aesthetic Classic Cocktail

Aviation

We tend to think of crafting  Insta-worthy cocktails as a modern-day mission. But while clouds of dry ice, explosive pops of flavour-filled spheres, foams, gels and visual marvels are definitely more popular in the social media age, the idea of creating cocktails that were designed to please the eyes first and the palate second has definitely been going strong for decades. 

Meet The Aviation, the cocktail that rose to fame then faded into the background, and has become the bane of bartenders all across the world. To find out why, let’s take a turn back through time to 1916 when The Aviation made its first public debut. 

The History Of The Aviation Cocktail

The Aviation first found mention in a book by German-born bartender, Hugo Ensslin called Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ensslin’s recipe called for: 

  • ⅔ El Bart Gin
  • 2 dashes Crème de Violette
  • ⅓ Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 dashes of Maraschino Liqueur

It’s believed that Ensslin himself was the creator of this unique combination and is credited with inventing it while he was working at the Hotel Wallick in New York. His book, and by extension The Aviation rose to fame and then as the prohibition era in the US began, it faded away just as quickly as it came. 

The Second Life Of The Aviation Cocktail

During the prohibition, many classic cocktails lost their way as simpler, more easily accessible ones were made in secret at speakeasies around the country. But once it was over, bartenders were on a mission to bring back all the very best, and the Aviation found itself in print again, this time, in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. However, Craddock’s recipe had one glaring difference: 

  • ⅓ lemon juice
  • ⅔ dry gin
  • Two dashes of Maraschino
  • Mix thoroughly and strain

He had entirely omitted the use of Creme de Violette. Whether this was intentional, or simply an oversight, nobody knows for sure. Another factor could have been how difficult it was to procure Crème de Violette. It wasn’t a common bar staple and often needed to be stocked simply for this drink and Craddock may have been trying to save his fellow bar-runners the extra hassle. But despite the new recipe, it did bring back the cocktail to many post-prohibition menus and rekindled a love for it and for almost 40 years, bartenders made it according to Craddock’s orders. 

How Did The Aviation Cocktail Get Its Name 

One unfortunate side-effect of the new recipe was that the name of the cocktail was now completely irrelevant. The cocktail came about in the early days of air travel, when flying was a privilege reserved for the wealthy – a fashion statement even. In 1917, when The Aviation was crafted, it symbolised the age of aviation and the purple-blue hues reminiscent of cloudless skies. Without the Crème de Violette, the lilac hues were missing and the name was rendered obsolete.

Modern Popularity Of The Aviation Cocktail 

When it came to light that there were two versions of The Aviation, many modern bartenders took up the challenge to recreate the original. The problem was, that even in the present day, acquiring Crème de Violette poses a considerable challenge. For more than forty years, there had been little demand for the liqueur and only since the late 2000s has it become somewhat more accessible. 

However, even when all the necessary ingredients are at your disposal, some bartenders hesitate to add The Aviation to their menus. This comes mainly due to its unusual flavour profile. The presence of juniper notes from the gin, tangy citrus from the lemon, and the syrupy sweetness of maraschino cherry liqueur, coupled with the floral undertones of violets, results in a perplexing collision of flavours. It's essential to be precise with your measurements to ensure a balance between the tart, sweet and herbaceous elements, a finicky process at the best of times. 

The revival of this beautiful blue drink has slowly been drawing attention in the Instagram age and the delicate balance for violets and gin is one that appeals heavily to the era of our modern Gin-naissance. It seems like The Aviation is finally getting its chance to soar again. 

How To Make The Aviation Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz (60 ml) Gin
  • 0.5 oz (15 ml) Maraschino liqueur
  • 0.25 oz (7.5 ml) Crème de violette
  • 0.75 oz (22.5 ml) Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Ice
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Instructions:

  • Fill a cocktail shaker with ice to chill the ingredients and the serving glass. Let it sit for a minute or two while you prepare the rest of the cocktail.
  • In a separate mixing glass or cocktail shaker, add the gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  • Retrieve the chilled cocktail shaker with ice and empty it. Then, strain the mixture from the mixing glass into the chilled shaker.
  • Shake vigorously for about 15-20 seconds until well chilled. This helps blend the ingredients and create a frothy texture.
  • Strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass. If you don't have a coupe glass, a martini glass works as well.
  • Garnish your Aviation cocktail with a maraschino cherry. Optionally, you can add a lemon twist for an extra touch of citrus aroma.
  • Serve and enjoy your Aviation cocktail immediately.