This episode is just embarrassing.
Jay did a fantastic job researching the cocktail and laid out the story pretty well…at the time I don’t think I quite understood it. The problem is that the variations that we’re juggling are the first version, the traditional/popular version, and the likely version and you have to pay close attention to determine which is which. It doesn’t help that the source we are using, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, has a version of the Aviation that isn’t the traditional mix, it’s probably more the likely version.
The first printed version looks nothing like what we call the Aviation today. In fact, there are other versions that likewise are very different than the popular Aviation we know today. We usually discuss the spontaneous generation of multiple varieties of cocktails with the same name as being similar to The Derby (which is one of the first one’s Jay and I did together, episode 60) because that one had so many different variations, it’s like every bartender had an original drink called The Derby because it was celebrating a popular American past time or event. We think that with the advent of flight, the idea became wildly popular, a notable celebration of the rise of humankind, a huge step forward, so that the idea of aviation combined with the spirit behind it created a cultural sensation that people wanted to participate in by either creating or imbibing a special cocktail.
In 1916 Hugo Ensslin printed his book with his version of the Aviation with the Crème de Violette. As we’ve seen with other American cocktails, the advent of Prohibition stamped out the cocktail making fire that was sweeping the U.S., when Prohibition ended there was a cocktail revival, but only a few drink slingers from the heady days of the cocktail era put pen to paper to establish the cocktail standards going forward. Like a real fire that ravages a city, when the flames are put out and it’s time to rebuild, the reconstruction is happening all at once and so everything being put back has the same style and materials ie is built the same way and to identical standards. When Prohibition ended, Ensslin’s Aviation won out and became the standard. That’s why we know it as it is traditionally made today.
But that’s not the end because Jay found some versions of the recipe without the Crème de Violette, something today’s bartenders absolutely would never fail to add. One aspect of the liqueur that Jay discovered was that it was kind of hard to get. Back at the turn of the 19th century we speculate it’s likely that many bartenders, notably Craddock in his Savoy cocktail book, would have had to skip using it because it just wasn’t available. We think that’s where the debate about its inclusion arises and why our book features the recipe without.
I, however, did not fully understand this whole narrative. When I did the second half with the tasting team, I kept referring to the Aviation without the crème de violette as the original. In this commentary I am reinforcing that my understanding was wrong, that the traditional, even if not the first, version of the Aviation includes the crème de violette and so what most bartenders are making today, because the blue liqueur is infinitely available, is the established Aviation version.
I’m very sorry for helping maintain this misunderstanding and hope I am not responsible for lasting damage to the historical record.