21 Jun 2013

DRINKS: Into the Blue – The Aviation

IN one word, spirited “Maestro”, Salvatore Calabrese ordered an Aviation from nervous-looking Australian, Adam Brewer. I felt my eyebrows rise, this being the first time I’d heard utterance of the chic-sounding libation. The setting: the air-conditioned, seaside Astir Palace, a haven of a hotel outside politically turbulent Athens; the event: the 2009 finale of ‘Raising The Bar’, a year-long quest to identify the world’s best bartender from 9,000 entrants. 
Craving more excitement and overview than a town of 2,700 could provide, Brewer (pictured) left his home of Tenterfield, New South Wales for Brisbane at age 18 to take a double law and business degree. But, to his mother’s surprise, drinks rather than edicts would be his calling, and today he represented the ‘Sling Lounge’.
While Brewer believed winning Raising The Bar would have spelled a book deal, he lost, partly on account of a clumsy Bloody Mary, over-garnished with what Calabrese judged “a tree” of celery. But with its’ delicate but pervasive, citrus-floral fragrance and complex palate, his gorgeous light sky-blue icy-cool triangle of Aviation sparked me to pursue the perfect rendition ever since.
According to Alessandro Palazzo of Duke’s of St. James’s, the Aviation (gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and cherry garnish, and Crème de Violette) was created by Hugo Ensslin, bartender at Hotel Wallick, Times Square (it appears in Ensslin’s 1916 ‘Recipes for Mixed Drinks’). However, by 1930, émigré, Harry Craddock, who swapped prohibition-time USA for elite London, had omitted Crème de Violette from the recipe in almanac, ‘The Savoy Cocktail Book’.
While some bartenders speculate that the ingrediental casualty stems from an inaccurate lifting of Ensslin’s recipe, others insist Craddock did it on purpose. Indeed, the aromatic balance Crème de Violette brings to the otherwise subtly-bracing sour can polarise, as Master Mixologist who served in The Rainbow Room, Dale DeGroff attested at an event billed “Do Not Resuscitate”. He remarked that the traditional Aviation: “...tastes like hand soap...”
But, for me, Crème de Violette brings identity. That the precious liqueur was scarcely in production for much of last century has ensured the original cocktail an elusive reputation. “It enjoyed a re-birth around 2000, when Crème de Violette became available once again,” says Calabrese, who now mixes a fine example at his Park Lane, Playboy Club bar.
A good Aviation is a model of restraint, especially in hue. Indeed, the name is more likely to have been prompted by the cue of the Wright Brothers first flights and the ensuing frenzy with air travel in America than the kind of deep blue skies I saw in Greece the afternoon I tasted my first Aviation.
My favourite versions appear more akin to a mildly-optimistic summer’s day in London. Perhaps in subconscious tribute to the drink, every wall in my home seems to mimic the colour – Dulux Imperial Mauve 5. As Abdulai Kpekawa of Grosvenor Square’s Luggage Room bar cautions, “it's easy to put too much Crème de Violette in and turn it blue.”
The Aviation, for decades in danger of extinction, is the sleek sibling to the gin martini. Slimmer-seeming in alcohol, it is immeasurably complex and ultra-appetising – a gateway aperitif to the bounteous world of gin.

Salvatore Calabrese’s Recipe
  • 5cl/1⅔ gin 
  • 1.5cl/½ oz Maraschino liqueur 
  • 2 or 3 dash Crème de Violette 
  • 1.5cl/ ½ oz fresh lemon juice 

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry. 

Tweaked for my palate
  • 5cl/1⅔ strong, Juniper and citrus-rich, Tanqueray No. 10
  • 1.5cl/½ oz Maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes Crème de Violette
  • 1.5cl/ ½ oz fresh lemon juice (organic is best, suggests Palazzo) 

Stir, consistently, in the frozen bowl of an ice cream maker for two minutes with ice cubes of distilled  water for purity. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a gin-cleansed Maraschino cherry (to remove potential for over-sweetness) and lemon twist (first used to spritz the surface of the drink).
Tanqueray No. 10 is available, couthly-boxed, for dispatch to your door c/o spirits boutique, Alexander & James.