Purple prose: In praise of the Aviation

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 chainCDV 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.

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This photo does the beauty of the Aviation no justice. But you get the idea. 

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.

 

 

Margarita bottle service? ¡Un otro, por favor!

At a Mill Valley restaurant, serve yourself and live large

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this is the first time I’ve seen Margarita bottle service: At Playa restaurant in Mill Valley, California, $48 for a voluminous tankard of Margarita, iced and bucketed tableside in the fashion of an overpriced Chardonnay. 

The thing is, the Margaritas were unnecessarily spectacular: tart and bright, with the kick of el burro. All glasses were Old Fashioned style, half the rim wearing a collar of salt and half plain.

I was as usual going to do the Intrepid Cocktail Geek routine at Playa and order some unthinkable mezcal/anisette/Asian-pear-tincture/espresso-rose-water-bitters/nitrogen-frozen-Kool-Aid-garnish thingy named after the chorus of some Guatemalan rap song. 

Wisely, I deferred to our group’s preferences, and to my own curiosity about being served a whole bottle o’ cocktail fun.

It was so good we ordered it twice.

Seems like a brilliant mix of customer delight and business smart. Folks drink more when they serve themselves, the product is pre-batched, the wait-staff is freed from one-off re-orders and even from the salted-or-unsalted query.

And hey, it’s a rare chance to act nearly as cool as you wish you were.

True, it’s not like being a rapper in the red velvet room of a downtown club working through a case if Ciroc. But bottle service of high-power hootch, the vessel sweating in its metal bucket of ice as the gang tops each other off until — oops, gone already? ¡Uno mas, senorita! — is just a hoot.

nb: The food at Playa is so tasty it’s almost unfair to other Mill Valley restaurants. 

American Orange: A populist punch for 2017

American Orange Punch — a lot of work, a delicious outcome & an unsettling resonance with our peculiar moment of populism

Until quite recently I thought “punch” was essentially a huge cocktail served in a bowl — sort of a “family size” Manhattan with a ladle.

Now that I have twice conjured American Orange Punch I can report that I was deliciously, deliriously wrong.

An “authentic” punch, I learned from the magnificent David Wondrich volume, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, requires among many other things proper oleo-saccharum-izing, the vigilant filtering of pips [!], the manual agitation of sugar your mama never heard of, and the attentive employment of a vegetable peeler and cheesecloth — to say nothing of boiling, infusing, cooling, funneling, stirring, and, not least, carefully and repeatedly taste-testing.

This took me 4 hours the first time but only 3 the second.

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American Orange Punch: A populist libation

I chose from Wondrich’s volume American Orange Punch for two related reasons:

  • It was served at the epic 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson — the infamous “open door” White House party, where The People were invited in to celebrate the heartland hero’s election. By some popular accounts his supporters proceeded to get turbulently drunk on the stuff — smashing glassware, staging fist-fights, engaging in rude assignations, nearly suffocating the President by overpacking the parlor, etc. White House staff had to set the barrels of the punch outside to get the ruffians out of the place.
  • As it happened, both holiday parties I brought the punch to took place within a few miles of the White House. Call me seditious, but in 2016 the theme of a rowdy idiot populist mob descending on the White House, fighting, stealing stuff, breaking shit, screwing around, and generally defaming the office of the Presidency seemed to have a certain resonance. That all this was happening around a famously Orange American….well, I was too weak a man to resist.

Continue reading “American Orange: A populist punch for 2017”

The Italian Manhattan Project: Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto

In which I try to create an “Italian Manhattan” but wind up blindly reinventing…one of my favorite classics

I’d say I “invented” this one, but I’m fast learning that claims of beverage authorship rank among amateur drinksters’ most dangerous lies, along with “I’ve only had two” and “I picked up the check last time.”

More about this below.

But here’s the story: I began playing around with an “Italian Manhattan” over a year ago, when I discovered the lovely Italian apertif Cocchi Americano, collected a few Italian amari, and fell into mixocological rumination.

The right amaro, I reasoned, could plausibly stand in for red vermouth, the Cocchi for white, yielding a kind of Manhattan Perfetto. [A “Perfect Manhattan” is a version of the classic whose vermouth dose is equally split between dry and sweet. A more complex version, an acquired taste.]

A Measured Spirit Craig Stoltz cocktail recipe blog
Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto, aka the Italian Manhattan. Created in Bethesda, Maryland by way of Brooklyn. Not Italy.

This turned out to be harder than I hoped — even to my palate, weakened by years of actually drinking my failed experiments instead of dumping them in a shoe like a proper gentleman.

The Cocchi comes across like a herbal, slightly citrus-y vermouth with a surprising bitter finish that to me “dries” it out.

This led me to seek balance with what turned out to be either too much amaro, the wrong amaro, or both. I tried Averna, Cynar, Ramazzotti, and the unpalatable [I don’t care what “they” say] Fernet-Branca. The vermouth stand-ins swamped, overwhelmed, or disrespected the rye, all without bringing much sweetness to the effort. The whole thing was just a lot of bickering in a glass.

So I got out of the Italian Manhattan business entirely for about six months. [Into the creative vacuum rushed among other things the Hillbilly Martini, which I’m not sure was a productive diversion.]

But then, not long ago, I made an Old Fashioned sweetened with Maraschino liqueur. I loved it. Back into my brainpan oozed the Italian Manhattan Project. Maybe if I relieved the amaro of the burden of sweetening… Continue reading “The Italian Manhattan Project: Un Cappello da Uomo Perfetto”

Happy Hour Quickie #4: Moscow Mule

This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour

This week’s Happy Hour Quickie© abides by 2 of our strict HHQ™ rules — it comes together quickly and is impossible to screw up.

But the third rule — that it require only easily available ingredients — is a slight stretch. You may have to visit a decent grocery or package store to provision one key ingredient.

A Measured Spirit cocktail recipe blog Craig Stoltz
To make a proper Measured Spirit Moscow Mule, you must use Fever Tree ginger beer. You must not use a large copper mug.

Happy Hour Quickie recipe: Moscow Mule

  • 2 oz vodka [1.5 oz for the more sessionable version — which is to say a drink of which you can have more than two without having to summon Lyft]
    • As with nearly all vodka drinks, brand just doesn’t matter. But Smirnoff’s is the original. Don’t use any of those high-priced Gray-vedere-roc-whatever brands. Total waste. 
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
    • Most recipes call only for a lime wedge garnish.  I like the addition of citrus juice.  Eliminate it if you wish.
  • 4 oz [measured] Fever Tree Ginger Beer
    • Use only this product, which has a high-spice, make-your-lips-tingle buzz. Most easily available ginger beers [Barrett’s] are too wan to carry the drink.  

Squeeze the lime juice into an Collins glass, a double Old Fashioned, or a small copper mug. Add the vodka. Fill the vessel with cracked ice. Top with the Fever Tree.

Garnish with a slice of lime. Feeling rakish? Just toss the spent lime shell on top. Continue reading “Happy Hour Quickie #4: Moscow Mule”

Happy Hour Quickie #3: Daiquiri

This week’s fast, easy, and effective recipe. Hey, you’ve got only an hour

This week’s Happy Hour Quickie — in addition to meeting the strict HHQ rules that the drink must be made from easily available ingredients, come together quickly, and be impossible to screw up — is a seasonal classic.

Happy Hour Quickie Daiquiri recipe

DaiquiriThis week I offer my favorite version, an evolved/stolen/tweaked Daiquiri that meets my preference for tart over sweet:

  • 1.5 oz white rum
    • Mid-shelf, ol-dependable, easy-on-the-wallet Bacardi works just fine
  • 1 oz lime juice
    • Fresh-squoze only — you knew that
  • .75 simple syrup
    • 1 oz for the more common, sweeter, arguably more balanced version

Shake and strain into a Martini glass or coupe [stronger], or over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass or, with cubes, into a Collins glass [more “sessionable“].

The drink can go naked or wear a lime wheel on the rim. Continue reading “Happy Hour Quickie #3: Daiquiri”

Pimp my Gin & Tonic

So I was in the butcher shop, of all places, and came across a cocktail curiosity completely new to me: Carmencita’s Botanicals for Gin & Tonic.

Essentially the product provides little bits of some of the botanicals often found in gin. You plop them into your Gin & Tonic to add additional flavor and scents and whatnot.

This kit ($6.95) contains pink peppercorns, juniper berries, cardamom pods, and hibiscus flowers.
Cocktail blog Craig Stoltz Carmencita Gin and Tonic Recipe A Measured Spirit

Gimmicky?  Sure! But it’s a pretty nifty way to dress up an often samey standby.

First, the visuals are great — vivid, colorful little things either stirred below the ice or resting on top, or both. As the minutes pass the hibiscus bleeds off some of its crimson hue, creating a floaty red smudge.

Gin & tonic recipe Craig Stoltz A Measured Spirit cocktail blog
The Carmencita: Just add gin and tonic.

Flavors? Less so, but still usefully additive.

The cardamom provides a surprisingly nice nose. [On my second experiment I gently broke the shell of the pods and the effect was enhanced. In time the pink peppercorns add some bite. The juniper? Seems redundant, and I’m not sure you need to turn up that flavor in a gin.

I know what you’re thinking. [I always know what you’re thinking. How do I do it?] Can’t you just buy the spices and and save a lot of money?

Why, yes, I can. And I will.

I’ll thank Carmencita every time.