Sunday, September 13

Drink Spotlight: The Aviation

So for my birthday, my sister got me a gift card to my favorite store in the St. Louis area. Called Lukas Liquor, this place has everything. Well, okay, not everything. But it does have the largest variety of spirits and beer (and probably wine, but I will confess my complete wine ignorance) that I have ever seen, and it is always expanding.

Case in point: used to be the only bitters in town were good old Angostura Aromatic. Even the gigantic liquor superstore that is forty-five minutes from my house only carried Angostura. About a year ago, I went in just to browse, and I saw another bottle sitting next to the Angostura; the much regarded Antoine Peychaud had joined in on the fun. Then, last time I was in, I wandered by the bitters section, and noticed that it is now a whole section, with Fee's (chocolate, rhubarb, celery, mint, the whole gang), as well as Angostura Orange and all sorts of others. It is a good time to be a cocktail enthusiast!

Well, I needed a good way to spend this gift card, when I stumbled upon this:

Creme de Violette. Once so rare and valuable that only the seven richest kings of Europe had access to it(I think. At the very least, I'd never seen a bottle.), now sitting on a shelf in my favorite store, ten bottles deep. With a sticker that says "New Product!". So what was I supposed to do?

And so, whenever I find a new bottle of something delicious at my favorite store, I immediately think of any drink I can that uses the obscure and hard-to-find ingredient. In this case, only one jumped out to me, and that was specifically because it's probably the best cocktail for showcasing this particular spirit.

The Aviation has been around since men first learned how to fly. The roaring 20's were known for flapper dresses and incredible prosperity as we as a country had industrialized and had not yet had WWI to bring us down. There were parties, and there were cocktails. And, while I may idealize drinking pre-1980, this was certainly a good time for the cocktail.

The Aviation:
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. Creme de Violette
Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

I'd made the Aviation once before, when I didn't have any Creme de Violette (as some say is possible), but I was not impressed. It is an extremely different drink when made properly. Maraschino Liqueur is, as you would guess, cherry flavored, and is fairly difficult to find, but was plentiful in the days before Prohibition. You see, back then, the Maraschino Cherry was simply a cherry that had been preserved in Maraschino Liqueur, which was distilled from the Maraska cherry. That's a big circle, but essentially, they needed a way to preserve cherries, so why not use a liqueur that was made from cherries?

Then, Prohibition kicked in, and not only could you not get a good drink anywhere, but it was suddenly illegal to use alcohol for anything. But children still needed their Maraschino Cherries. So, whereas bathtub-gin became a huge health risk as people distilled their own liquors to vastly inferior quality (because people needed their gin, and there was no regulation of an illegal industry), the Maraschino Cherry took a turn for the worst. The new process of preserving cherries involved using chemicals to extract all of the color and flavor from a perfectly good cherry (but in doing so, keeps the cherries firm), and then using artificial flavors and colors to put those things back, since no one wants to eat a white cherry. And that's still the way it's done today.

There has been a lot of talk about what exactly those preserving chemicals are (from formaldehyde to lye), and the Maraschino Cherry industry (which resides in Oregon, of all places) has, of course, taken the opposite position most of the time, but one thing cannot be disputed. These freak cherries are soaking A LOT of sugar. It may seem weird to hear someone who espouses the benefits of drinking to be health-conscious, but frankly, we all have way too much sugar in our diets as it is. Wherever you can cut back a little, it's probably a good thing. So I of course made my own.

Simple process, from what I can tell. Take as many Bing cherries as you can fit into a jar, and then add Maraschino Liqueur. Wait at least a few weeks. I also made Brandied cherries and cherries that were a mix of Brandy and Maraschino Liqueur, just to find the best way, because Maraschino Liqueur is not cheap. And so that's what you see sitting in the bottom of this cocktail.

That was a lot about cherries. The drink itself? Very tasty. Also, very different from pretty much any cocktail I've ever had. The two liqueurs are very aromatic, almost perfumed, and they combine nicely with the gin. Which, in this case, was Tanqueray. One of my family's quirks is that they are very frugal (my Grandma was one of nine, and she herself had ten children), but for some reason, no one will drink any gin other than Tanqueray. So as a result, it's the house gin. Lucky me!

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