The Aviation enjoys an enviable level of popularity today despite its rather turbulent history. The cocktail is known for its signature color, but it’s ultimately the delicate balance of floral, tart, and sweet that makes it a popular choice among cocktail enthusiasts.
Hugo Ensslin, known for his flair for the dramatic as a bartender, introduced the cocktail in his 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, one of the first American books on cocktails published in the years leading up to Prohibition. Ensslin combined crème de violette, gin, lemon, and maraschino liqueur to create a cocktail with distinct floral notes and a unique purple hue reminiscent of twilight skies.
But crème de violette was difficult to obtain in the United States at the time. That, combined with Prohibition and Ensslin’s suicide in 1928, made the Aviation a faded memory by the 1930s.
Cocktail historian Dave Wondrich attributes the cocktail’s survival to Harry Craddock, who included many of Ensslin’s drinks in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930). Craddock’s recipe, however, calls for 1/3 part lemon juice, 2/3 parts gin and two dashes of maraschino liqueur. Gone were the distinct purple color and floral notes, which were replaced with a yellowish hue and tart finish.
The Aviation made a comeback in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until the craft cocktail movement in the early 2000s that bartenders once against started to use crème de violette to restore the Aviation’s signature color and balanced flavor profile.
In addition to crème de violette, we like to use a gin infused with pea blossoms to make a cocktail even more dramatic in appearance.
2 oz gin 3/4 oz crème de violette 1/2 oz maraschino cherry liqueur 1/2 oz lemon juice
Combine ingredients over ice and shake. Strain into a coupe and garnish as desired.