Drinking Blue: The Aviation and the Blue Moon

I blame it on Boozehound. The fact that I have a bottle of¬†Cr√®me de Violette, that is. I never knew I needed it until I read Jason Wilson’s account of the Aviation cocktail, a classic that apparently lost its way and fell from the sky. Until a few years ago, most recipes for an Aviation called for gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice. Few had any clue why it was called an Aviation. Then someone dug up the fact that the original called for¬†Cr√®me de Violette, a deep purple-y blue bloom of floral intensity that does indeed turn the cocktail the color of a pale, hazy blue sky. (That’s a fairly crappy photo of a Blue Moon pictured above, not an Aviation – hold your horses, we’ll get to that in a minute). Turns out,¬†Cr√®me de Violette was practically non-existant for decades until being revived in the past several years, and we have Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz to thank for bringing Rothman & Winter Cr√®me de Violette back into obsessive bars all over.

The Rothman & Winter Cr√®me de Violette is distilled in¬†Austria by Destillerie Purkhart, a¬†maceration of two types of violets ¬†in “weinbrand,” a liqueur distilled from grapes, with some cane sugar added. It’s worth pointing out that the color is not fully derived from the violets – there is coloring added, too. This Cr√®me de Violette is intense, perfumey stuff – it doesn’t have the easy appeal of the honeysuckle sweet St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur – so it needs to be used in small, careful doses.¬†Also, it seems to work especially well with dry gin – the Aviation and the Blue Moon are both gin-based cocktails, as are a few other lesser known cocktails like the Jupiter and the Yale cocktail (beware blue Curacao, be true to¬†Cr√®me de Violette).

So, back to the Aviation. The recipe in Boozehound calls for:

1.5oz gin
3/4oz fresh lemon juice
1/2oz maraschino liqueur
1/4oz Crème de Violette

It stirs up into a pale, cloudy, lavender-blue that lets the
light shine through in an appealing way. Despite the fact that the¬†Cr√®me de Violette is a minor ingredient, a¬†floral smell dominates the nose. Cherry is there, as is the angular spice of the gin, but it’s those violets that jump to the forefront. As you taste the cocktail, a¬†tart, crisp, mouth watering, citrusy burst hits first. Then the cherry rolls in, the flowers come in again at the end, and the gin provides a steady bass line throughout. Rothman & Winter’s rendition of the Aviation recipe calls for less lemon juice, less maraschino, and MORE¬†Cr√®me de Violette (not surprising, really, they love the stuff!). Personally, I prefer to up the gin to 2oz (following the rest of the recipe in Boozehound)¬†to pull back the floral notes and cherry into more of a balanced dance with the gin. It’s a lovely drink, unique, but rewards playing around with the ratios to suit your tastes.

As for the Blue Moon (pictured up top), it’s very similar to the Aviation, but with¬†more gin (2oz), 1/2oz each of the lemon juice and Cr√®me de Violette,¬†and NO maraschino. The color stays roughly the same strange lavender-blue hue, but the gin is indeed more prominent on the nose here. On the outset, I find the Blue Moon a bit more balanced overall, with the lemon acidity in check. But that gin seems to come on a bit too strong towards the finish, throwing that balance off. When I was playing with this one, I went back and added the maraschino into the mix, and really felt that kicked up the¬†body, complexity, and nuance of the drink, actually propelling the floral notes forward in a positive way. So, yes, I prefer a ride on the Aviation, keeping the maraschino in.

Of course, if you’re not into gin (what, are you crazy?), there’s the basic Violette Royale – 4oz Champagne and 1/2oz¬†Cr√®me de Violette. Now, if you’re not into Champagne either, don’t bother buying that bottle of¬†Cr√®me de Violette.