If you're into thinkin' and drinkin'

Episode 8: Up in the Air – The Aviation


As we have been doing these cocktails for a while, we have come to recognize several scenarios in how cocktails get their name, how their ingredients evolve and how they become popular. The Aviation follows one of these patterns so exquisitely that it serves as a perfect example to demonstrate how a cocktail with a popular name evolves into a winner.

Jay started his research with information everybody knows…Hugo Ensslin created the Aviation we’re familiar with in 1916. This is undeniable.

However, in Straub’s Manual of Mixed Drinks he located a cocktail called the Aviation with a completely different recipe…apple jack, absinthe, lime juice and grenadine.  In the early 1920s we find an Aviation in the Philippines made with gin, pineapple juice and brandy.  Another totally different set of ingredients.  We’ve seen this before.

When a cocktail takes a name that is a popular thing, idea, personality, etc. numerous cocktails might be created independently all over as a celebration of that thing or idea. So we end up with many cocktails sharing the name but having none of the ingredients in common. In the case of the Aviation, we assumed it got its name because the drink was “going to make you fly/get you high” but also the advent of manned flight was new and had to be completely amazing at the time. The word “aviation” probably meant a lot more back then than it does today. The word and the concept was popular and worthy of a cocktail and many Aviations were so created.

Prohibition killed all of them immediately. It essentially acted as a “do over” or blank slate, so that when Prohibition was finally repealed, those bartenders waiting ready with cocktail recipe books for publication, primarily Harry Craddock and Patrick Gavin Duffy, became the foremost experts on what these cocktails were.  Duffy’s cocktail book had Ensslin’s recipe for the Aviation and with Duffy as the preeminent expert on mixing cocktails (because he had the most recent book published post-Prohibition), his word about anything alcohol became gospel and so Ensslin’s recipe became the one and true Aviation cocktail.

The most shocking revelation Jay had to share was that based on all of the early versions of the cocktail, being blue wasn’t significant.  In fact, creme de violette was kind of rare and hard to procure. Ensslin’s blue Aviation would not have been popular for bartenders to mix and would have been difficult to consistently count on being available.  Granted, the blue color makes the drink really damned sexy and that might be the reason Duffy picked it for his cocktail book and that too would have made it a popular drink that has lasted as a favorite even today.

What’s in it:

  • 2.5 oz gin
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • 2 or 3 dashes maraschino liqueur

It is important to note, despite Jay’s assurances that the drink isn’t predicated upon its blueness, that the commonly accepted version of the Aviation does contain creme de violette. If you order an Aviation in any bar in this day and age, you will be served a blue drink.  I also feel confident in saying that you will likely enjoy it a whole lot more than the above recipe we’ve provided.

When Michael made the drinks for us, he was sure to make both versions. Across the board, all of us at the bar appreciated the modern version over the one without the creme de violette. Without the violet liqueur it is way too lemon forward almost entirely obliterating the maraschino flavor. The version without the creme de violette may have been first and maybe the blue color wasn’t necessary, but the blue flavor sure seems necessary after sampling both side by side.

Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

Transition music: Cephalopod by Kevin MacLeod
Closing Music: The Aviation Show by Plates of Cake

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