Best Aviation Cocktail Recipes

Vintage—or classic?

It’s not an age old argument, but it can occasionally be a heated one. If you were to ask a certified mixologist  (excuse me… an artiste l’boissone, barkeep,) they’d likely answer that the former is defined either by ingredients which are no longer in vogue—for one reason or another; or merely drinks which were rooted in a specific time of yore, and subsequently no longer relevant to the rapidly changing tastes of the drinking class. A Brandy Alexander, for an obvious example. Distinguished from, say, a Cosmopolitan; timeless, refreshing and certifiably, unquestionably classic.

The average cocktail enthusiast (forgive me… I meant rummy) on the other hand, might answer that the difference is simply a question of semantics. And while both may raise good points, let’s be perfectly honest—when was the last time either of you ordered (or wanted to make) a Harvey Wallbanger?

While it’s true that the trend towards classic cocktails has never particularly gone out of fashion, vintage cocktails definitely seem to be making a comeback. It’s not uncommon to see Mint Juleps being ordered outside of Kentucky Derby Day anymore. Sloe Gin Fizz? Goes great with your matching Burberry coat. A Pink Lady? Well…. maybe not so much.

Gin based cocktails in particular see to be on the upswing these days; and no classic… er, vintage concoction better helps epitomize a gin based cocktail than that violet-tinted marvel known as the Aviation—

But wait. Wasn’t it am be a slightly blue drank the last time you ordered one? Like, that’s how it got its name right?

Let’s delve into a little history behind the Aviation cocktail…

History of the Aviation Cocktail

The Aviation was created by Hugo Ensslin, head bartender (note: not a mixologist) at the Hotel Wallick in Times Square during the turn of the century. Ensslin, a German emigre, later went on to write Recipes for Mixed Drinks in 1917; often considered to be the Book of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers of cocktails all rolled into one. In it, we see the first published appearance of the Aviation:

  • 2 fl. oz. Gin
  • .75 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .25 fl. oz. Maraschino Liqueur
  • .25 fl. oz. Crème de VioletteShake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Seems fairly simple, right? Except there’s that last ingredient. Crème de Violette. Surely, you’ve heard of it? Why, I’m certain you’ve got a dusty bottle waiting there in your liquor cabinet. Go check. We’ll wait.

Crème de Violette is a low proof liqueur made from brandy and… well, an extract of violets. As a result, it has a distinctly floral taste which was well suited for the American public prior to Prohibition, when tastes could be as diverse and imaginative as they could get. However, due to that dark period of time in which only bathtub gin and the most distinctly rotgut brands of high octane swill were the only choices available, once that ban had lifted palates were no longer attuned to flowery bouquets. And subsequently, crème de violette was imported only on an extremely limited basis. It wasn’t only until recently (2007) that importers saw the niche in the American market, coinciding with the vintage cocktail revival. And with fairly high success. So next time you’re at a liquor store and see a bottle in the cordial section of some funky deep violet colored liquid with a name you’ve never heard of? Pick up a bottle. It won’t bite.

Harry Craddock, author of the equally influential Savoy Cocktail Book, published his own variation in 1930; albeit omitting (whether intentionally or not) Ensslin’s choice of crème de violette; and it’s Craddock’s lead that most mixologists have followed to this day, frequently mixing it with Crème Yvette (a more accessible liqueur; however with a distinct vanilla taste) to give it a somewhat more traditional flavor. However, it’s the acidity of the lemon when mixed with crème de violette that lends the Aviation a sky blue color.

Needless to say, if you’re even thinking of adding artificial food coloring? Go sit in the corner and cry, please.

Ingredients—or Do Brands Really Matter?

 In actuality, they do; but it’s a matter of experimentation to find your own unique taste.

There’s numerous gins available on the market. And while Gordon’s may be an adequate choice for your average dive bar gin and tonic, it simply won’t cut it for something classic (or is it “vintage”?) Likewise, to order an Aviation at your nearest dive bar is likely going to get a pensive stare (if you’re lucky.)

Hendrick’s is typically an excellent choice, as it focuses more on florals and other aromatics—which (if you can’t find crème de violette) can certainly enhance the flavor and take your cocktail to a more traditional level. On the other hand, if florals are not to your taste, you’d want to avoid both a floral based gin and crème de violette altogether. In which case, your best bet is to go for Plymouth, as it’s sweeter than your average London Dry, but much more rounded. Of course if you do prefer London Dry, you can choose any of the more popular brands—Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are all classic and perfectly respectable choices. Genever, because of its richness, is an excellent choice for experimentation but avoid, by any means necessary, flavored gins and grape gins. They’re crimes against humanity.

The liqueur you use is largely a personal preference. Again—crème de violette? Violet in color, and floral in taste. Creme Yvette? Ruby, with a spicy vanilla taste with hints of fruit. If you wish to sample the former, Rothman and Winter (who started the trend of production and imports into the US in 2007) is your ideal bet, but Drillaud also produces a perfectly fine version.We’ve even had some using neither and substituting St Germain instead and… were our doubts ever shaken. So by all means, experiment. But, avoid like the plague Violet flavoring syrup or anything by DeKuyper. You’re not 17 (we hope.)

Maraschino liqueur (and we must insist on this; maraschino syrup is not acceptable) can be an acquired taste, but once you acquire it? You’ll want to use it in ways that would petrify even the hardiest mixologist. Luxardo and Cristiani make excellent choices for the first timer.

Aviation Cocktail Recipes

Classic Aviation Cocktail

  • 2 ozs Plymouth gin
  • ½ ounce Maraschino liqueur
  • ½ ounce Crème de violette
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 lemon spiral (for garnish)

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain the drink into a martini glass, add garnish and serve.

Upgraded Aviation Cocktail

  • 2 ozs Plymouth gin
  • ¼ ounce Crème de violette
  • ½ ounce Maraschino liqueur
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ ounce Bénédictine
  • 3 drops orange bitters
  • 1 lemon spiral (for garnish)

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain the drink into a martini glass, add garnish and serve.

The Kitty Hawk

  • 2 ozs Hendricks gin
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce Crème Yvette
  • ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Without adding ice, shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds or until the mixture is well frothed and foamed. Then add ice and vigorously shake again to chill the drink. Strain into a martini glass, add garnish and serve.

The Flying Count

  • 2 ozs Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • ¼ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce St Germain
  • ¼ Maraschino liqueur
  • 1 handful fennel seeds
  • 1 lemon spiral (for garnish)

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a separate glass and rinse seeds out of shaker. Add ice and pour ingredients (minus the fennel) back into shaker. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a martini glass, add garnish and serve.