Ah, the Aviation. This pre-prohibition cocktail has certainly had its highs and lows in popularity since its appearance in the last major cocktail book published prior to those pesky dry crusaders ruining everything for thirteen long years. Its four simple ingredients, when expertly mixed, can sway the most stubborn anti-gindividual into a juniper-based life form.
In its most traditional composition, ingredients are: gin, crème de violette, maraschino liqueur, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Shake, pour into a martini glass, and garnish with a lemon peel (usually there’s a Luxardo cherry involved as well). Voila! It’s a strong drink, as martinis tend to be, so be prepared to take flight if you have more than one…or four. And speaking of flight, this cocktail gets its name from the charming hue reminiscent of a beautiful blue sky.
I feel like I’ve been seeing the Aviation pop up on cocktail menus more and more within the last couple of years. It’s definitely become one of my go-to drinks to order. There’s a good handful of places in C-U that serve it up. Make sure your tray tables are stowed and seats are in the upright position — our first stop will be at Hamilton Walker’s with layovers at Miga and Big Grove before hitting our final destination at V Picasso.
I’m gonna come right out the gate and say that, straight up, Hamilton’s Walker’s makes my favorite Aviation, though it should come as no surprise when I explain why. The very first Aviation I had was presented to me by the bartender who ended up training the guys at H.W. For me, it’s the Mary-flippin-Poppins of cocktails — practically perfect in every way. You definitely get a strong floral nose (from the crème de violette), the lemon juice shines through nicely and isn’t overpowered by the rest of the ingredients, resulting in a great balance between sweet and sour. No lemon peel here, but there is a skewered Luxardo cherry. H.W.’s aviation takes on a more purplish hue; it all depends on your ratios. There were those in our group who didn’t like the stronger “flowery/perfumy” quality of this version and preferred some of the others instead. For me, the floral trait is what the Aviation is all about.
Everything I thought I knew about the Aviation was turned upside down with the one we had at Miga. I placed my order and we sat at the bar and chatted while it was being made. Then, boom, sitting before me was a cocktail that was neither blue….or purple….but rather orange. The bartender saw the confused look on my face and asked what was up, so I explained. They weren’t stocked with crème de violette but did have crème Yvette, which he said was its traditional form anyway. And it turns out he was right to some extent, but I definitely had to google it, I was so curious.
There was a period of time when crème de violette ceased to exist in the U.S. in the 1960s and didn’t reappear until 2007. For a short time, crème Yvette took its place (eventually it also ceased production), therefore leaving some recipes that had suggested it as a suitable replacement. (The violette is made from violets then paired with a base spirit and sweetened. Yvette is made from four types of berries and violets and adds honey and orange peel). Even though it wasn’t what I expected, it was still a beautiful color and took on a lighter/summery flavor. It packed a heavy citrus/sour profile, which many in our group liked, and the strong floral nose was not present because of the switch to Yvette. It was a very different, but pleasant surprise to us all.
The next stop was Big Grove. Also served in a coupe glass, this version came out looking exactly like the Aviation we are all familiar with. Bright blue, with a frothiness left on top from the amount of shaking and accompanied by a lemon peel garnish, though there was no Luxardo cherry. It was very drinkable in the sense that I felt it was the most watered-down version of them all. The violette took a backseat here and there was a considerable amount of lemon juice. For me, there are other cocktails that Big Grove does very well that I would choose over their version of the Aviation.
We have now reached our final destination, V Picasso. Here, the drink was also bright blue in color with a crisp and clean presentation. Served in a martini glass, it came sans lemon peel but did include a Luxardo cherry. Here they went a little heavier with the maraschino liqueur and lemon juice as it was reminiscent of a blue sweet tart. The sweetness seemed pretty heavy to me — our group was pretty divided in our feelings when comparing the four together. While this version was more appealing to those who placed it high in their ranking because it was sweeter, there were others who placed it lower on their list. All in all, it’s personal preference.
I’d like to thank you for flying with us today, it was a pleasure informing you. We here at Smile Politely hope you have a great day and remember to please drink responsibly.
All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake