Whenever I’m eyeing the bottles behind a bar, I scan for Creme de Violette. An undistinguished looking cylinder of dark purple with a circumference of silver label, the bottle of CDV is a key signifier, as they say in sociology: It tells me that someone in the chain of custody is a fellow cocktail geek.
Bars that have it on hand use it almost exclusively to make a single drink: The Aviation.
The pre-Prohibition gin mix-up was first referenced in print in 1911, eight years after the Brothers Wright committed the act of flight in Kitty Hawk.
This is no coincidence. The Aviation takes its name from the dusky sky blue color the CDV paints the drink.
Where the Aviation gets its wings
The armature of the Aviation is essentially a gin sour: 1 part gin, 1/2 parts each lemon juice and a sweetener.
What makes the drink distinctive is the fact that the sweetener comprises Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and CDV. No simple syrup or sugar.
About the Creme de Violette: Many liqueurs can be taken straight, or thinned with soda to make a neat little sipper. Don’t try that with this gal Violette. She’s sweet to a fault and generic in flavor, maybe a bit flat from the flower petals used to distill it.
But properly measured, she brings some great fun to the party.
The Aviation cocktail recipe
- 1.5 gin
- Any mid-shelf London dry
- .5 lemon juice
- .25 oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- .125 [1/8] oz Creme de Violette
After shaking all ingredients, double-strain to sift out the pulpy lemon detritus. That’ll give you clearer skies, so to speak.
Garnish with lemon twist or a cherry.
The Aviation cocktail tasting notes
- Properly balanced, the lemon/sweetener combo ticks the edges off the gin, the ingredients melding nicely into a very distinctive, sippable drink. The cherry notes bring a sort of sophistication to the party.
- People get finicky about the right amounts of Luxardo and CDV. Both sweeteners punch above their weight, so you definitely want to avoid anything too close to a 50/50 split of lemon to the combined sweeteners.
- I prefer the mixture above, which gives the maraschino the bulk of the sweetening role and uses the Creme de Violette mainly for color.
A few observations from the friendly skies
- The most referenced version of the drink, found in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, omitted the CDV. I tried it that way, edging up the maraschino liqueur to counterpunch the lemon. It was okay, if hard to balance. It was…a sweet martini. But it lacked that delightful sky blue.
- In 2006 an American craft gin called Aviation was launched, designed in part to support this drink. I’ve tried it. Makes no difference.
- In Punch, there’s a great piece of reporting explaining how the Aviation was a darling of 1990s first-generation craft-cocktail bartenders — the exotic ingredients, along with the storied history and exotic color, led the mixological cognoscenti to sky-dive. Then came the inevitable backlash, with some saying it tastes like hand soap and others even saying it was all an “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon: It tasted ridiculous but everybody convinced themselves the royalty was right.
- Ignore them. The emperor is fully clothed. And lookin’ damn good in sky blue.