The Aviation is like the unicorn of cocktails: mythical, wildly colorful, and hard to find.

A lavender, blue-hued drink served up, the Aviation includes gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur, and crème de violette (a liqueur made from violet flowers). Those last two ingredients are what makes this drink a wildcard in the pre-Prohibition cocktail hall of fame. You either love the Aviation or abhor it.

For starters, the Aviation is an in-your-face Gin Sour with a seemingly hot mess of flavors. You’ve got the juniper from the gin, sour from the citrus of the lemon juice, syrupy fruit from the maraschino liqueur, and fragrant perfume from the crème de violette. Neither the gin nor the juice is the star of this drink; the maraschino liqueur sits front and center, while the crème de violette adds depth and color. A lot is going on but done right it’s an interesting and refreshing drink.

The Aviation first made its print debut in 1917, in the last cocktail recipe book published before Prohibition: Recipes for Mixed Drinks, by Hugo Ensslin, a German-born bartender, who created the drink while working at the Hotel Wallick in New York City.

In 1930, the recipe appeared in print again in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, but without the crème de violette. Perhaps Craddock was in a hurry and copied Ensslin’s recipe down wrong, or perhaps he thought it just tasted better without it. Whatever the reason for the recipe discrepancy, Craddock’s version is what most bartenders today know as the Aviation, but without any clue of the reason behind its moniker. But when you add the crème de violette, the drink name suddenly becomes obvious, because the drink takes on a sky blue color.

However, until a few decades ago, the Aviation cocktail was basically grounded. Why? Because crème de violette disappeared stateside. In 2009, after 40 years of being unavailable on the market, it was resurrected when Haus Alpenz began importing an Austrian violet liqueur. Since its comeback, some American distillers are producing their own version, such as The Bitter Truth’s Crème de Violette.

Long story short, the Aviation is a cocktail that modern Americans are still unsure about because of its floral-forward notes. Let’s say the Aviation has wings but requires a few more flight hours before it’s ready to take off in the United States.

Here’s the original recipe to decide for yourself.

Aviation

Aviation

Aviation Cocktail

Ingredients: 

  • 2 oz. Gin
  • 1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. Crème de Violette
  • 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
  • Flamed lemon peel (for garnish)

Preparation: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice; shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed lemon peel.