A Frequent Flyer
If there’s not a term for the phenomenon where you learn a new thing — a name, a word, a cocktail — and immediately start noticing it everywhere, there really should be. This happened to me in the last year or so with the Aviation, a cocktail now so thoroughly ingrained in my list of favorites that I can no longer remember where I first encountered it.
The drink first appeared in print in New York bartender Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks; in his book Imbibe!, cocktail historian David Wondrich calls it “one of the last truly great Cocktails to be invented before Prohibition.” Though Ensslin’s recipe also called for crème de violette, in most current incarnations, the Avation consists of just three ingredients: gin, lemon juice and maraschino liqueur, shaken and served up.
If the very word maraschino sends you into fits of cherry-red, artificially-colored fear, breathe easy: maraschino is a sweet, unusually flavored, colorless liqueur made from marasca cherries. (Maraschino cherries, before they turned down a dark path, were made with maraschino liqueur.) Locally, you’re most likely to find Luxardo maraschino, an old Italian brand which isn’t cheap but will likely last you for a period of time bordering on forever, as you’ll use very little of it in each drink.
Part of the beauty of the Aviation — beyond its bright, balanced flavors and lovely cloudy appearance — is that despite the brief ingredient list, there’s little consensus on exactly how the drink ought to be made. You’ll find six pages of discussion on the eGullet forums (home to bartenders, drink experts and regular folks) about the Aviation. Some posters advocate for a bit of simple syrup; others argue about the best kind of gin to use (Portland’s Aviation Gin, clearly named with the drink in mind, is one option); still others discuss the crème de violette issue, now that the liqueur is once again available, or debate which brand of maraschino liqueur is preferable. According to Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, if you make the drink with crème de violette instead of maraschino, it’s a Blue Moon, but you’ll find the violette version on The Rabbit’s classic cocktail menu under the Aviation name. At Marché and Belly, the drink is currently made with Meyer lemons, which add a little extra sweetness.
In the four cocktail books on my desk, there are four Aviation recipes, each with different proportions. But I’d take the advice of Gary Regan, who says, in The Joy of Mixology, that “the ratios depend entirely on how dry the maraschino liqueur is. Taste your bottling first, then add the lemon juice accordingly.” Regan calls for 2 ounces of gin and half an ounce each of maraschino liqueur and lemon juice (shaken and strained into a chilled cocktail glass). Your mileage may vary — but isn’t that part of the fun? — Molly Templeton
Meyer lemon Aviation at Belly
A Cocktail to Raise the Dead
Having a bottle of absinthe at hand recently led me to investigate absinthe-based drinks. Problem is, you have to buy gallons of mixers just to use up a cup. The Sazerac, for instance, made with rye, calls for only a dash of the stuff. Such is the power of the green fairy — its flavor overwhelms everything it touches. The Corpse Reviver #2, on the menu at Marché, requires only a rinse of the glass with Herbsaint, an anise-flavored brew made domestically in New Orleans. (The word itself is a linguistic cousin of absinthe, coming from the French Creole word for wormwood — Artemisia absinthium.)
The classic cocktail Bible, Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) includes the Corpse Reviver #1 — mostly an historic footnote at this point — made with vermouth and brandy and “to be taken before 11 am, or whenever steam or energy are needed.” Number 2, the recipe that Marché bartender James West favors, calls for gin, Cointreau and Lillet Blanc (James Bond calls it Kina Lillet when he orders his famous Vesper martini). Four of these concoctions taken in swift succession, Craddock admonishes, “will unrevive the corpse again.”
The Savoy, says West, provides “pillar examples” of the classic cocktails that were available in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To West, the Corpse Reviver #2 is an opportunity to introduce people to a cocktail that is one of the few to use Lillet Blanc (say Lill-ay). The fancy French white vermouth gives it a tangy wine backdrop, while the gin, Cointreau and lemon juice balance each other in sweetness and acidity. The Herbsaint merely wafts an anise aroma. “It’s such a fun cocktail with lots of depth and lots of activity,” on the palate, says West. “It’s a perfect, entry-level drink, a great way to introduce people to gin, Lillet and absinthe or Herbsaint. It’s not too sweet and is perfectly balanced using all the flavor points.”
Ancient Roman lore suggests that absinthe was sometimes given medicinally to children. While that is unverified, I did stumble in to Marché at the tail end of a week-long snuffly stuffy cold, and didn’t cough once, not a single time, while I was enjoying a Corpse Reviver #2. Now I’m a believer. — Vanessa Salvia
Corpse Reviver #2
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz. Cointreau
3/4 oz. Plymouth gin
Rinse glass with Herbsaint. Shake all remaining ingredients over ice. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist.