Happy Hour History: The Aviation

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Like the great machines that inspired its name, the gin-based Aviation also took flight in the early 20th century. Its origin is fairly straightforward for its time: Barman Hugo Ennslin created it at New York’s Hotel Wallick around 1911, and included it in his 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks.

From there things went a bit sideways. In 1930, the Aviation appears in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, albeit without the essential crème de violette liqueur, which gives the Aviation both its floral flavor and heavenly hue. The omission was likely a copying error on Craddock’s part; however, lacking this ingredient, it’s basically a sour.

By the 1960s, crème de violette had become impossible to come by in the States. This development, along with Craddock’s typo, standardized the violette-less preparation for decades to come. Things changed in 2007, though, when the liqueur once again appeared on U.S. shelves. Since then, the classic Ennslin recipe has returned with force bringing with it some lively debate over what constitutes a true Aviation.

Pictured: Lively debate.

In the glass, the Aviation is ethereal and enchanting, like the sky just after dusk or just before dawn. On the tongue, it’s equally alluring — the botanicals of the gin blend with the floral notes of the crème de violette; the bite of the lemon tempered by the sweetness of the maraschino. It’s complex yet easy to drink, as it should be. Indeed, the Aviation is a drink best served ice cold and drunk without delay. As Craddock prescribes, drink it “quickly, while it’s still laughing at you.”

The Aviation Recipe

2 oz. dry gin
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. crème de violette*

Directions: Combine ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake for 10-20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with real maraschino cherry. Those neon red bar cherries may be easier to come by (and cheaper), but this cocktail deserves better.

  • A little crème do violette goes a long way; too much and your cocktail will taste like hand soap. Some recipes call for as little as a 1/6 oz., so it’s best to experiment and find your preferred amount.

Enjoy while listening to this.

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso.