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.

 

 

140-character booze review: Lord Wimsey Gin

A Measured Spirit public service: Time-saving booze reviews with no room for preening, blather, and B.S!

1st gin from Md.-based maker. Think 1/2-hearted flavored vodka. Juniper-free; odd orange nose. Desecrates Wimsey name. Weak debut. Buy? Ha!

Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail

Why would a rum drink be called the Casablanca? It doesn’t matter. Just make it

This version of a drink called the Casablanca is an outlier: No competing exotic backstories, disputed claims of authorship, layers of footnotes, etc. Nobody appears to take credit for this drink.

They should. It’s really good.

I thumbed across it in the encyclopedic but completely undistinguished The Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich, which provides no detail about provenance. Neither does any online or print reference I could find.

One would assume this drink is somehow linked to the classic 1942 movie of the same name. This appears unlikely.

  • In the film, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine drinks Scotch.
  • He refers to his Moroccan watering hole as a “gin joint.” [Says Rick famously to Ilsa: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”]
  • I haven’t seen the movie enough to say for certain that no rum is served at Rick’s American Cafe, but the carfare between North Africa and the Caribbean alone, you’d think, would be a limiting factor.
The Casablanca cocktail recipe Craig Stoltz Measured Spirit cocktail blog
The Casablanca cocktail appears to have nothing to do with the classic movie. Who cares? It’s a delightful craft cocktail-ish spin on the Daiquiri .

A Measured Spirit Surmise™: In Spanish, “casa blanca” means “white house.” Spanish is spoken throughout the Caribbean, cradle of rum. Rum was originally made on sugar plantations, where presumably The Big House was white.

Don’t pause to ponder. Just make this drink: Continue reading “Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail”

Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side

Wild peppermint puts a badass twist on the gentle classic

My son, an environmental scientist, was doing whatever it is environmental scientists do somewhere in the wilds of mid-state Virginia. He came across a cluster of wild peppermint. This he would know as mentha canadensis.

Because he is a loving son, he brought back a handful for his dad to do something drinky with.

Wild peppermint2
Wild peppermint, aka Mentha canadensis: The badass of the mint family.

So what would I do?

I looked, I turned it around in my hand, admired its handsome scuzz. I washed it. I gave a leaf a good smack and sniffed it. Less mint, more “weed.” I bit an edge. Peppery [duh], firm. Again, weedy.

So what would I do with such a unruly bit of foliage?

Working deviously against type, I decided to desecrate one of the most sophisticated mint drinks I know: The Southside. Continue reading “Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side”

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.

 

The Gin Daisy Chronicles, Part 2 (bad but inexplicably popular version)

The most-referenced Gin Daisy recipe on Google is horrific. Here’s how that happened

As regular readers of A Measured Spirit know, I have launched a campaign to explore that great if slightly obscure American classic, the Gin Daisy. It’s not one drink, but several drinks, some with little in common beyond the name.

Its origins are gauzy, its first recipe apparently lost. This has provided mixmasters almost 150 years of opportunity to improvise, riff, and commit various acts of mischief.

So, for our second installment in this series, I decided to check out the most popular recipe I could find.

Google, make me a Gin Daisy

For this I turned to Brother Google — the world’s always-on vast repository of knowledge, first refuge of rookie drinkmakers, and our most ubiquitous source of misinformation.

When Google presents search results, the order is based on a complex secret algorithm. But its most important component is the number of other sites that link to a particular page. The thinking: If a lot of other people think something is valuable, it’s valuable.

And so I Google “gin daisy recipe.”

Gin Daisy A Measured Spirit

Chowhound? WTF?  Continue reading “The Gin Daisy Chronicles, Part 2 (bad but inexplicably popular version)”

Notes on tasting notes: Green Hat Navy gin vs….. Bols Genever????

Why my brain connects a beverage dating from the Napoleonic wars with a thunderously flavorful contempory-style gin

Not long ago I was at D.C.’s New Columbia Distilleries, a young and ambitious gin mill, makers of the ascendant artisanal brand Green Hat gin.

Let me rush to admit I love the stuff — it’s an unapologetic powerhouse in the contemporary style, rich with botanicals, citrus, and florals.

Yet it’s very well-crafted. A distillation that in other hands might have become an idiot flavor riot lands in the glass as an intriguing, complex elixir.

With Fever Tree it makes a magnificent gin & tonic, and it diverts an Aviation delightfully from its flight plan.

Green Hat Navy Strength Craig Stoltz A Measured Spirit
Green Hat Navy Strength: So much flavor, it’s nearly a bottled cocktail.

An explosion in the glass

At my most recent visit I tasted a newer product, Green Hat Navy Strength gin.

There’s a wonderful story, possibly true, about British sailors fearing that the ship’s officers would water down the day’s ration of gin. When alcohol reaches 114 proof, it is said, will explode gunpowder. And so the sailors would attempt to ignite the gin. If it exploded it was cheers all around, and mutiny was put off for another day.

Speaking of exploding, that’s pretty much what happens when you drink Green Hat Navy Strength, which is indeed bottled at 114 proof. It’s got all the flavor complexity of the flagship product, plus more, plus — let’s be plain — a giant wave of ethyl at the snout.

But mellowed on a fat ice cube it opens wide, and you taste all kinds of spices and citrus, something sweet. Plus, I think, some pepper. Anise, maybe.

Bol’d over

But as I was sipping I picked up something totally unexpected: The distinct malty, sweetish undertones of genever, the Dutch proto-gin made by Bols.

This is not a bad thing, but a surprise nonetheless. Genever is to gin what Neanderthal is to homo sapiens — a bit wobbly as a first go, but full of promise and destined to develop into greater things.

Continue reading “Notes on tasting notes: Green Hat Navy gin vs….. Bols Genever????”