Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, in which JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.
Every now and again, a movie comes along where the supporting actors come in and steal the show. Think of John Goodman's unpredictability in The Big Lebowski. Or, if you're a little more old-school, Kevin Kline trumping Michael Palin and John Cleese(!) in A Fish Called Wanda. Or if you're too young to remember those, Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. This week's cocktail has the same kind of performance. It's gin-based, but who cares about that when the accompanying ingredients are so fascinating?
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The Aviation cocktail is ancient mixology history, dating to the early 20th century. Given the drink's bluish hue, it's almost a given that the name is an allusion to the new-at-the-time airplane that took people into the wild blue yonder. That color comes from crème de violette, a liqueur with the delicate taste of violet flowers. Even though it's very pretty and demure, that taste can make your drink taste like perfume if you're not careful.
Enter maraschino liqueur, an eau-de-vie made from cherries. The inclusion of the cherries' pits in the liqueur making gives maraschino a nutty, lightly astringent note. Like crème de violette, it can also bully its way to drink domination. It turns out maraschino and crème de violette play off of each other's strengths with aplomb. In fact, they do it so well that the lead-role gin plays second fiddle. That makes this an excellent introduction to the joys of gin.
For a good number of years, the Aviation was made without the violette. This is likely because the liqueur had fallen out of favor by the mid-20th century. If it weren't for the new cocktail boom, it would likely be extinct today. I'm glad it's back around; the Aviation is decent enough with only maraschino, but it really shines with the crème de violette.
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Aviation Liquor geeks may be tempted to substitute Parfait Amour or Crème Yvette for the crème de violette. Try it if you want, but crème de violette is the way to go. 2 ounces gin ¾ ounce lemon juice ½ ounce maraschino liqueur (I prefer Luxardo; good luck finding anything else in the first place) ¼ ounce crème de violette
Shake everything with ice. Strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.