Someone Call the FAA, There’s An Aviation Controversy!


Over at Underhill Lounge, Eric notes/fans the flames of a simmering debate in the cocktail world surrounding the liquorati’s Secret Handshake™, a.k.a. the Aviation. The question revolves around which of the two main recipes for the Aviation is right, proper, meet, hunky-dory, legitimate, etc.
The original formulation, dubbed by Erik the Ensslin version is thus:

ENSSLIN (ORIGINAL) AVIATION

  • 2 parts gin
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1/8 part maraschino liqueur
  • 1/8 part creme de violette

Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The more common formulation in use today is generally credited to Gary Regan, and goes like so:

REGAN AVIATION

  • 4 parts gin
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part maraschino liqueur

Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

At least that is the common formulation if by common formulation you mean what you will get after trekking three days through the Himalayan Mountains to find some bartender named Yogi who will respond to your request for an Aviation with something other than a blank stare. It is the Secret Handshake™, after all….
The debate was triggered by one of my favorite commenters, here and elsewhere in the Cocktailosphere, The Concierge. Erik calls it a Nomenclature Debate as the question as he sees it is whether Gaz’s modern formulation should be called an Aviation, Infra-Aviation, etc. or whether we ought to refer to Ensslin’s original version as a Violet Aviation, Ultra-Aviation, etc.
I don’t really think what’s important here is nomenclature, however. Drink recipes change and evolve. The Old Masters in particular do this. As ingredients change in character, or go in and out of production (e.g. creme de violette), recipes for drinks need to change.
Of course, this can sometimes be disastrous. The less said about common modern formulations of the Mai Tai, Daiquiri, or Hurricane, the better. But when living in a creme de violette-free world (most of you did until very recently) Gary Regan’s formulation is a damn fine drink and good way to keep a classic’s spirit alive. They both are Aviations.
That said, there is a good debate to be had here, just not over the name. Which is better, dammit?
Sorry Gary, but while your version may be a damn fine drink, Ensslin makes a better product in almost every way.
First, as Gwen says, Violets are blue, Aviations are too. Without the color brought to the party by the c d v, the Aviation is kinda blah looking. With it, the drink has that incredibly unique look of a deep sky in the gloaming that evokes images of Howard Hughes, or Charles Lindbergh, or Amelia Earhart, flying off into history.
Second, the whole point of a Secret Handshake™ is to show off your chops. Maraschino is hard enough to find, but bust out the purple bottle and any other cocktailian present will know you are a force to be reckoned with. Or something. Unique ingredients make for unique flavor combinations, and those are what make special cocktails special.
Lastly, sorry Gaz, the original Aviation formulation just flat tastes better. I love maraschino, but like absinthe, I have to keep a very tight reign on it. When doled out with a spoon or even a dropper, it adds an indefinable something to drinks. But by the time you get up to a pony’s worth, this little wimp punts. and the creme de violette adds more than just color, it definitely adds to the drink’s pleasant complexity that I mentioned above.
Having committed the ultimate sin of publicly preferring another recipe over one of Gary Regan’s, I’ll get out while the getting is good, leaving you with two very good points that came out in the debate at Underhill Lounge.
Erik makes the point in his own comments that the Ensslin ratios are subject to modification as you go. Gary makes the same point about his version in another thread. As I said, ingredients change with time and brand, varying in sweetness and strength. Tastes of course vary too. Make an Aviation, and you show off your knowledge. Make a good Aviation, and you show off your skill and artistry.
The last point is also one of Erik’s that bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. And also applying to many other cocktails out there. Make the Aviation small. It’s very bracing, and you won’t drink it very fast. It is awesome when well-chilled, and flat out bad when it warms up.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

10 Comments

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  • For me the CdV is absolutely essential, both for the color and the light floral flavor it brings to the drink.

    Though now you’ve got me wanting an Aviation in the middle of a work day. ;)

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  • We learned about the Aviation from Paul Harrington’s book “Cocktail” and use his recipe – 1.5 oz gin, .5 maraschino, .75 lemon, and we use Luxardo Maraschino liqueur.

    We, of course, were drinking them before Creme de Violette was available in the US (brag, brag). Then in 2004 when Ted Haigh published the first edition of ‘Vintage Spirts & Forgotten Cocktails” he mentions the Blue Moon – an Aviation with Creme de Violette.

    Since it took me a couple years to get to London to get a bottle of creme de violette, we tried using parfait amour – some cocktail books suggests it as a substitute. Mistake.

    To avoid confusion, we’ve taken to using Ted’s nomenclature and call the gin/maraschino/lemon one the “Aviation” and the gin/maraschino/lemon/Creme de Violette” one the ‘Blue Moon’.

    Which bottling of creme de violette are you using? The latest bottle we have is the Rotham & Winter, which results in a drink which is more “grey/blue” than “blue”. More of a “is that OK to drink” than “let’s wax poetic” color.

    I’ve found over the past eight years my tastes in cocktails have changed. When I started out, I found many classic recipes far too dry, or too strongly tasting of, well, alcohol – “this tastes like a glass of gin!”. Now I’ve grown to appreciate them much more, and since its been a couple of years, I’ll have to try Esslin’s recipe again to see what I make of it.

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  • I use the Rotham & Winter. I look at it as a dusky/smoky blue, like late evening sky. For me it is very appetizing.
    Cocktail is still my favorite drinks book ever, especially since it is the one that got me int this hobby. Back when I was starting out, I couldn’t get the Maraschino either, so I never tried his Aviation until after I had tried the Esslin.

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  • John,

    Many, if not most of the recipes in the Cocktails+ database come from the CocktailDB library. Most of the recipes there were put together before Creme de Violette was once again “readily” available.

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