Don’t be confused by its deep blue color. The Aviation cocktail is a serious cocktail for serious drinkers. Read on to learn how to craft the classic gin cocktail at home in just five minutes.
Based on its appearance, you might think that the Aviation Cocktail is a fruity-tooty cocktail. You would be wrong.
Despite the Aviation’s fun blue color that flirts with purple, this pre-prohibition cocktail’s flavor is far from fruity. Instead, a handful of ingredient combine to form a profile that skews tart but with a floral finish.
After discovering the classic yet obscure cocktail while researching drinks to craft with our bottle of Luxardo maraschino liqueur, we were intrigued by the Aviation gin cocktail both for its name and its ingredient list.
Also, did we mention that it’s blue?
What Is the Aviation Cocktail?
The Aviation Cocktail is sour gin cocktail that lived under the radar for more than a century. This sad status likely had ties to the scarcity of one of the Aviation’s key ingredients – crème de violette. Plus, maraschino liqueur isn’t exactly a home bar staple.
But, for those who make the extra effort to procure both crème de violette and maraschino liqueur, ‘the sky’s the limit’ with this classic drink. As it turns out, the Aviation is as easy to craft as it is to imbibe. As a bonus, you can surprise guests at a cocktail or dinner party with the striking drink’s ‘stratospheric’ azure color.
How Did the Aviation Cocktail Get Its Name?
You may be wondering how the Aviation cocktail get its name. After all, nothing about the drink’s recipe or consumption involves aircraft. To answer this question, you just need to look up.
Planes fly in the sky AND the Aviation’s color is sky-blue. Plus, the cocktail’s exclusive ingredient list conveyed a level of luxury and fantasy that correlated with the exclusivity of air travel a century ago.
We equate the cocktail’s name to the way we use fantastical names for products we consume today like Starburst, Mars Bars and even Comet Bleach. Not that we would ever think of drinking bleach…
History of the Aviation Cocktail
The Aviation cocktail’s history is almost as old as the aviation industry.
Innovative bartender Hugo Ensslin invented the Aviation cocktail recipe at the Hotel Wallick in New York City and included it in his book Recipes for Mixed Drinks in 1916 – just 13 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright flew their plane at Kitty Hawk. While that auspicious plane flight only lasted 12 seconds, the cocktail has survived for more than a century.
Admittedly, it’s been a bit of a bumpy flight. While plane travel soared over the ensuing decades, the Aviation cocktail almost crashed into obscurity. But why?
First came prohibition when serving alcoholic beverages was taboo. Then there were issues with the drink’s ingredients. Crème de Violette, the liqueur that provides the drink’s blue hue and floral flavor, was practically impossible to buy in America for much of the 20th century. And to further complicate matters, Ensslin’s original gin of choice, El Bart, ceased production in the 1950s.
The nail on the proverbial coffin almost came in 1930 when The Savoy Cocktail Book included an Aviation cocktail recipe without Crème de Violette. Clearly, that version didn’t go over well since the Aviation took a nose-dive in popularity before it coasted on the fringes with hard-core cocktail connoisseurs.
Thanks to a 21st century return to craft and the availability, albeit limited, of Crème de Violette, the Aviation has risen from near-oblivion. And, to that, we say cheers!
Aviation Cocktail Ingredients
We’ve already touched on the Aviation cocktail’s short list of ingredients. This is the full ‘crew’:
While the original recipe called for now-defunct El Bart gin, we used Citadelle gin from France instead. Since any dry gin will work in this recipe, we recommend that you use your personal favorite. Better yet, use Aviation gin if you have access to the American dry gin produced in Portland. The name synergy is almost too good to be true.
Choosing the maraschino liqueur was an easier decision for us. After all, our bottle of Luxardo maraschino liqueur was the impetus for us making the Aviation cocktail.
And then there’s the Crème de Violette. After eating violet candy in Parma, we were intrigued to craft a cocktail with liqueur produced from the wild flower.
Produced in Germany, The Bitter Truth‘s Violet Liqueur fit our bill with its deep color and 22% ABV. Distinctly floral, it’s not a liqueur that we’d choose to drink on its own. However, the purple potent potable is ideal in our Aviation cocktail recipe.
How To Craft an Aviation Cocktail
As is the case with most classic cocktails, crafting an Aviation is both easy and fast. We crafted ours in just five minutes using the following basic bar tools:
Click here to discover 10 necessary bar tools for lazy mixologists.
The second step is to measure the three liquors (gin, maraschino liqueur and crème de violette) and pour each into the same shaker. We used a Japanese jigger to measure our liquors to achieve accurate measurements and clean pours. However, you can use a basic jigger or small angled measuring cup instead.
Buy a Japanese jigger if you need a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.
The third step is to add ice to the shaker and shake it vigorously until all the ingredients are combined and chilled – about 10 to 15 seconds.
At this juncture, the Aviation drink (and your hands!) should be ready for the next step. Brrrr…
The fourth step is to strain the cocktail into a small martini glass. You’ll immediately notice the Aviation’s vivid color as the liquid hits the glass.
Use a cocktail strainer to guarantee a ‘smooth landing’ into your glass.
The final step is to garnish the cocktail glass with a maraschino cherry. We recommend Luxardo maraschino cherries for this and other cocktails. Not only are these cherries the original maraschinos, but we consider them to be the best maraschino cherries in the world.
Discover why we’re obsessed with Luxardo cherries.
Aviation Cocktail Alternatives
We suggest that you follow our recipe at least once before you set your course for the stars. When your’re ready to experiment, we suggest the following Aviation alternatives:
Aviation Cocktail Recipe
- 2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
- 1/2 ounce crème de violette
- 1 maraschino cherry for garnish
- ice cubes
- Pour lemon juice, gin, maraschino liqueur and crème de violette into a shaker.
- Add ice and shake until ingredients are mixed and chilled.
- Strain into a small martini glass.
- Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
- Since crème de violette isn't available at all liquor stores, you may need to special order a bottle.
- You can use a coupe glass if you don't have a small martini glass.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: May 6, 2021