The Aviation Project – Last episode of my floral affair
The Aviation cocktail is almost as old as the birth of the aviation industry itself. It therefore comes as no surprise that there are more recipes than Hugo Ensslin’s one published in 1916, combining gin and lemon juice with a bit of maraschino and violet liqueur. He used crème de violette for the sky blue colour that suggested the cocktail’s name. His Aviation Cocktail is as blue as the sky with a memorable aroma.
My Aviation project was about trying the same classic gin based cocktail from different hands, in different bars, with varying gins to see the philosophy and the way different Berlin bartenders mix this classic.
The Aviation is a very tricky drink and it is very unforgiving in its balance.
As I mentioned above there are many cocktails named Aviation. Already in 1911 the San Francisco Chronicle reported about an Aviation cocktail which was actually a Manhattan. It was made of whiskey, Italian vermouth and bitters. I also found a recipe with Applejack and, of course, all the versions that appeared without the creme de violette because it was no longer produced and completely disappeared from the market in the second half of the 20th century. In recent years the drink has made a comeback thanks to the availability of the key ingredient creme de violette. What is certain, is that the Aviation is a classic cocktail through and through. My dive into the different flavours of Aviations in Berlin bars was very educational and inspiring. I have to admit that I underestimated the complexity of this wonderful libation and the difficulty in getting the balance right. Some bars should really stop serving Aviations because they give a false impression of its lovely character. Unfortunately, therefore, Aviation is likely to lose its popularity. It is not only the unique taste but also that it is not prepared properly.
The best Aviation I have had so far was at Buck & Breck. It was the right acidity and the violet was so elegantly accentuated, not too sweet, and a good balance of alcohol. Another palate treat I found at Bar am Steinplatz. Both bars serve the drink with love, intellect and true proficiency.
Gin is King or which juniper distillate is the best to use?
The original recipe of Ensslin’s Aviation called for El Bart Gin, that has long been out of business. You need a London Dry Gin with proper power, an old school gin heavy on juniper berries will do the job. The challenge is to get the balance between sweet, sour and dry in line. This needs research and patience. The next difficulty is to tame the strong flavours of the maraschino liqueur and the creme de violette. Another issue is that most of the Maraschinos on the market are not tasty. There is Luxardo but then for a long time nothing. Why not make your own Maraschino? It is easy to make and heightens the taste.
Shades of blue
The Aviation is usually light purple and pale blue in tone. Too much of the violet turns it entirely purple or blue. Creme de violette is an old-fashioned ingredient with an intensely floral and sweet profile that turns the drink quickly into an unpleasant experience, reminding you of your grandma’s soap. Just a tiny amount is necessary and you should invest in a good quality bottle. Some cheaper violet liqueurs on the market have a heavily artificial and way too sweet taste. Good products come from France and Austria. Nearly all the bars I’ve been to used Bigallet Creme de Violette, an independent family-run French company.
My Lessons Learned
An Aviation is tasty and refreshing. It needs to be drunk quickly while it is still ice cold otherwise you will end up with something less pleasant. Although there is enough sweetness from the two liqueurs, the recipe needs a bit of sugar to round off the experience. I love the delicate and floral aroma and I like it less sour. I prefer the drink without any garnish or maybe a tiny Maraschino cherry in the glass. It is like the sunset over the sky. Be careful, the drink looks romantic but it is a sly old dog.
Thank you for supporting my Aviation flight over Berlin. This adventure has come to THE END.