The Aviation is hard to resist: It's tasty, has a great pedigree, and is also really, really pretty.
This once-forgotten classic has made quite a comeback in the past decade or so, mostly at fancy cocktail bars. But it's easy to make at home, provided you're willing to track down the right ingredients!
The History of the Aviation Cocktail
The early 2000s marked the beginning of the so-called cocktail renaissance when American cocktail connoisseurs sought to rediscover pre-Prohibition cocktail recipes that had been lost to time. One of them was the Aviation.
The first Aviation recipes bandied about had just three ingredients: gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice. This conforms to the formula of a sour – base liquor, a sweet ingredient, and a sour ingredient – with maraschino as the sweet ingredient.
But then another Aviation recipe was discovered, with a mysterious fourth ingredient: crème de violette.
What is Crème de Violette?
Crème de violette is a liqueur that's made from (and tastes like) violets. Depending on where you live, tracking down crème de violette may prove to be a challenge. Until 2007 there was no way to buy crème de violette in the United States. But then Haus Alpenz began importing the Rothman & Winter crème de violette, and the Aviation exploded in popularity.
For a long time that Rothman & Winter crème de violette was the only option available; now there are a few others, including the Giffard crème de violette. Look for crème de violette at a larger liquor store or specialty shop, in the area for liqueurs and cordials. In a pinch, you can substitute Crème Yvette, although the final cocktail color will be a little different.
Is it really essential to the drink? Yes. This floral liqueur adds a new twist to what would otherwise be a gin sour. The Aviation is a crisp, bright and lively gin cocktail, but the floral notes from the crème de violette are what make it unique and memorable, and give it that lovely pale lavender color.
What Maraschino Liqueur Should I Use?
If you have the good fortune of finding a bottle of crème de violette, it's likely that retailer will also stock maraschino liqueur, the other important ingredient in an Aviation. Maraschino, which smells a little like cherries, a little like almonds, and a little like forgotten things, shows up in a lot of classic cocktail recipes, most notably the Last Word. Think of it as your ticket into the world of classic cocktails!
The Luxardo maraschino is by far the easiest to find, and the one I use in all my cocktails. You’ll find it in the distinctive straw-wrapped green bottle. Other brands, like Maraska and Lazzarroni, are less common but equally nice (and slightly less expensive).
Not Sure About the Special Liqueurs?
If they're not already part of your arsenal, acquiring both crème de violette and maraschino liqueur may seem like a big deal. If you're hesitant, I suggest ordering an Aviation at a bar first to see if it's a drink you really like. But in my mind it's worth it; the Aviation is a really beautiful and unique drink, and sure to take your cocktail night to the next level.
Which Gin Should I Use?
You don't need a particularly fancy gin to make a decent Aviation: any mid-priced gin in the London Dry style will do. I like Broker's – it's been my go-to gin for a long while, and can usually be had for around $20 a bottle.
That being said, a very nice gin can really elevate (see what I did there?) your Aviation. If you want a real treat, try Nolet's Silver Gin, which has notes of rose and white peach. It blends beautifully with the other liqueurs.
What's Up With That Bright Purple Color?
Do a Google search for "Aviation cocktail" and you'll see a lot of photos of drinks that are a bright, vibrant purple. This, I am sorry to say, is wrong.
If you make an Aviation with the proper proportions and shake it properly, you'll wind up with a drink that is more blue-gray (or pale lavender) than bright purple. It's the color of the sky at dusk, which allegedly inspired the name of the drink.
Hey, I love the idea of a bright purple cocktail, but in order to achieve this, you'd have to add enough crème de violette to make your drink taste like it was punched by a bar of soap.
More Fancy Cocktails to Enjoy:
- Blood Orange French 75 Cocktail
- Grasshopper Cocktail
- Blueberry Pomegranate Cosmopolitan
- Hemingway Daiquiri
- Vodka Martini
- 2 ounces gin
- 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
- 1/4 ounce crème de violette
Make the drink
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for about 30 seconds, or until a frost forms on the shaker. Double strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a cocktail cherry or lemon twist.