The Aviation Project – Serious Bar Talk with Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro
Berlin hosts many classic bars with a high reputation. Places where you can find forgotten classics on the menu and rare spirits in the backbar. Buck and Breck is one of them. An international highly awarded drinking den and a pilgrimage for bartender and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the world. Let’s have an Aviation and a serious talk about it with the brain behind this outstanding bar.
Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro is a legend. He is one of the experts when it comes to classic drinks and recipes. You can get very precise and well-balanced concoctions at Buck and Breck, and if you find Gonçalo himself behind the stick you can see and feel true craftsmanship. I really love these moments and Gonçalo’s humble, reserved and friendly way.
Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro has explored the origins of cocktails and their history and his knowledge and experience seem infinite. We talked about the current standing of the Aviation because some famous bar luminaries are less kind to the drink and plead that it should be removed from menus because it is not good enough to hold people’s interest, or some just say that the revival is totally overrated.
I do not agree with these opinions and I asked Gonçalo about his opinion of the Aviation.
“The Aviation is a very difficult drink. Although it consists of few ingredients and comes after a simple three ingredient principle with base, modifier and flavouring agent, it is very unforgivable in its balance. So, the Aviation is not a Gin Sour with Maraschino instead of sugar, and also not a Daisy variant like a Sidecar. The oldest Aviation recipe, as far as I know, dates back to Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks of 1916: Gin, lemon, Maraschino and violet. Later publications gave the recipe without violets. And precisely these publications were the basis for its revival at the time of the cocktail revival from the 2000s.”
This is one of the – if not the – best Aviation I have had so far. It was the right acidity and the violet was so elegantly accentuated.
Gonçalo, what is the secret behind it?
“The mixture of gin, maraschino and lemon is already hard enough, but the violet makes it even more difficult. Creme de Violette is certainly a mystical ingredient in this drink and it really makes sense. Especially when it comes to the name of the drink, which is apt for a drink from 1916, suggesting the pioneer era of human flight, the characteristic colour of the sky along with the delicate flavour. After the mid-end of the 2000s Creme de Violette appeared again and is an old-fashioned ingredient. For contemporary tastes, the floweriness could turn too quickly into soapiness. The product is usable only very reduced, otherwise it becomes unbearable. Similarly, although not quite as dramatic, Maraschino should be classified in the same way. Most of the products that are called maraschino are crap.
And then there’s the factor of Gin to be considered. I, for example, took a year and a half to get fresh lemon, Luxardo and gin in harmony. Gin is a herbal essence and, especially with Maraschino, certain components of the gin develop quite unexpectedly. So my Gin selection, like for a White Lady or a Ramos Gin Fizz, turned out to be inappropriate for an Aviation. After selecting the ingredients and ratios of Gin, Maraschino and lemon it took another six to eight months to adjust this with the Creme de Violette.”
The Aviation is one of the most difficult drinks to understand and to get the balance right.
“In summary, the Aviation is one of the most difficult drinks to understand and to get the balance right. The range for a balanced drink is extremely tight, that is how the reopened rejection is to be understood. This drink cannot be realised in high volume bars. But also bars with a higher level to attentiveness are likely to have difficulties with a drink with such a low tolerance in type of errors.”
Here is Buck and Breck’s formula (without any brand naming, but I know they use Plymouth Gin and also the Bigallet violet liquer):
45-50 ml Gin
16-18 ml Lemon
15-19 ml Maraschino
5-7 ml Creme de Violette
1-3 ml Sugar
To come to the point: this is one of, if not the best. Thank you Gonçalo for sharing your thoughts with me and my readers.
What else awaits you at Buck and Breck?
From the outside, nothing indicates a bar and the neon lights saying “closed” actually mean open. One of the most exclusive cocktail bars in Berlin is hiding behind an unobtrusive looking shop. It is only accessible by ringing a bell and by passing the strict door policies. The bar is not only a speakeasy it is a secretive hideaway with some strict rules: no pictures, no cards, no weapons, no mobile phone, no ice cream.
The philosophy of Buck and Breck is simple: Short Drinks with an historical background
The lighting is reduced, the same with the decoration. Black dominates: understated and very stylish. The 14 seats are arranged around the huge bar table that is the centre piece of the room. The mixing station is harmoniously integrated, which gives a personal connection to the bartender. The second room offers some lounge niches that encircle their own mixing station. My preferred place is at the bar table. All the bottles they use for the drinks look similar und are only distinguished by their coloured labels. Nothing distracts the eyes. The interior was designed by Swiss architects and here you will find some beautiful pictures of the venue.
The design of Buck and Breck is exceptional: A huge bar table in the centre of the room hosting 14 guests and the bartenders.
The menu lists classic short drinks with a few subtle twists. I love the wonderful libations at Buck and Breck but even though I am an experienced drinker they always take me to the very limits of my sensations. The focus is on highlighting the main spirit of the drinks. Be prepared for that and enjoy a unique bar experience.