Celebrating Flight’s Romantic Past
Traveled by air lately? Not really an inspirational experience, eh? After spending what seems like forever going through security (where you have to remove your shoes, and maybe have security people poke you with a handheld scanner), you finally get to board an overcrowded plane. Assuming your flight hasn’t been cancelled, of course. If you get hungry, good luck. Maybe they’ll sell you some stale peanuts.
Harried travelers may find it hard to believe, but flying once seemed daring and romantic. When the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk in December 1903, they unleashed the imaginations of would-be adventurers everywhere.
The Aviation Cocktail was invented not too long after that — perhaps to celebrate humanity’s conquest of the skies.
The drink has a clean, sophisticated flavor that evokes a glorious past. And unlike air travel, it still seems fresh and exciting. Not to mention civilized.
Recipe: The Aviation Cocktail
Although the first written recipe for The Aviation was recorded in 1916, the drink actually dates back to 1911 — or so cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich tells us in his book, Imbibe.
Good as this drink is, it’s not well known. Like The Last Word, The Aviation fell out of favor in the second half of the 20th century, only to be revived by cocktail enthusiasts in recent years.
The drink contains gin, lemon juice, and Maraschino liqueur. That last ingredient is a clear liquid with a slightly bitter flavor — the polar opposite of the red juice that sweet maraschino cherries are packed in (so the two are definitely not interchangeable).
The original recipe also contained a bit of Crème de Violette, a purplish liqueur flavored by the flower of the same name. This ingredient was dropped from the drink by the 1930s (in part because Crème de Violette became hard to find). It’s not part of today’s standard recipe, though some people insist it should be (in the Notes, I provide a recipe that includes it).
Because The Aviation contains citrus juice, it is a “sour” (that is, a drink in the same class as a Whikey Sour or a Classic Daiquiri). As with any sour, you may want to adjust the ratio of citrus and liquor to match your taste. I think David Wondrich’s recipe for this drink is perfectly balanced, and his is the one I use here.
This recipe provides one serving, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 2 ounces dry gin (I like Beefeater’s for most cocktails; but Plymouth gin is particularly nice in this drink)
- 2 teaspoons Maraschino liqueur (the Luxardo brand is widely available and of excellent quality)
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- maraschino cherry or lemon twist for garnish (optional)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds, until the drink is cold.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that has been chilled).
- A maraschino cherry or lemon twist is an attractive addition (though I often serve this cocktail without a garnish).
|Ingredients for the Aviation Cocktail
- Because this drink contains citrus, you should shake it to mix thoroughly. Citrus will make the drink cloudy, so the bubbles you generate by shaking won’t matter, and shaking is the best way to incorporate citrus into a cocktail. For more info on when to stir and when to shake, see Cocktail Basics.
- Some recipes call for 2 ounces of gin, and ½ ounce each of lemon juice and Maraschino liqueur. I don’t like the balance of this, but you might.
- Robert Hess has a nice video with instructions on how to mix The Aviation. He uses Crème de Violette in his version: 2 ounces of gin, ½ ounce Maraschino liqueur, ¼ ounce Crème de Violette, and ½ ounce lemon juice.
- Crème de Violette does provide a lovely lilac tint. But I think the drink tastes better without it. And it’s not an ingredient I have much reason to use otherwise, so I’ve decided not to stock it in my liquor cabinet.
- Maraschino liqueur is Italian, and is made from Marasca cherries, including the crushed cherry pits. As noted above, it’s not the sweet stuff you put on ice cream!
- No one is really sure how The Aviation got its name. Eric Felten suggests that it might derive from a newspaper’s tongue-in-cheek comment “that aviation was a good name for a cocktail given that airplanes and alcohol both got one high.”
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs took a sip of her Aviation. “Great cocktail,” she said. “But do you think it’s really appropriate for our holiday ‘Cookies and Cocktails’ series?”
“Sure,” I said. “Seems perfect to me. I mean, so many people fly home to see loved ones over the holidays, right?”
“Right,” agreed Mrs K R. “But do we really want to taunt people with reminiscences about the romance of flight while they’re struggling to get their shoes back on in the security line?”
“Um, yeah, I see your point,” I said. “But maybe that just makes it even more important to feature some decent cocktails. People could probably use a stiff drink after fighting their way through the airport.”
“True,” she said, brightening. “Maybe we should hoist a glass to all those road warriors.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Would you like to propose a toast?”
“Absolutely,” said Mrs K R, lifting her drink. “To the middle seat!”
Cheers. I think.
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Last Word Cocktail
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