What You Should Be Drinking: The Aviation Cocktail

The Aviation

In the first of this weekly series, I’m going to to introduce you to one of my all-time favourite cocktails – The Aviation.

This drink can come in a few different guises, and studied bartenders will argue with each other as to which is correct. In fact, I still have this argument with my good friend Henry, who I have convinced to write an article on gin for me in the future.

The Aviation is an old-school cocktail. There’s no messing about here, this is straight-up liquor. The recipe was first published in 1916, and was made up of 1.5 oz gin, 0.75 oz lemon juice, two dashes of maraschino liqueur and two dashes of crème de violette.

It’s the last part that people argue about – that pesky crème de violette. It’s not particularly hard to find, but you will have to go out of your way to get it. Which means that the idea of making one of these on a Friday night must be premeditated. It should be noted, that maraschino liqueur hasn’t always been that freely available either, but it’s certainly more prevalent than crème de violette.

In 1930 Harry Craddock released The Savoy Cocktail Book, and this sort of became one of the de facto standards in the industry for how to make drinks and generally behave behind the bar. His recipe is the following:

Harry Craddock’s Aviation Cocktail

  • 1/3 lemon juice
  • 2/3 dry gin
  • 2 dashes maraschino

This is a pretty solid recipe, though our tastes have changed somewhat in the 85-odd years since the book was published, and generally a bit more sweetness is needed to balance out the sour. Fear not: I have the solution. In what is probably my favourite cocktail book, The Joy of Mixology, Gary Reagan ups the maraschino content to compensate:

Gary Reagan’s Aviation Cocktail

  • 2oz Dry Gin
  • ½oz Maraschino Liqueur
  • ½oz Lemon Juice

This is my preferred recipe. If I can get hold of some crème de violette, I will often add just a couple of drops as it gives the drink a wonderful blue/purple hue.

How to Make It

First off, get a cocktail glass (martini glass) and stick some ice in it. Pour some cold water into the glass and let it sit. This will chill the glass ready for the cocktail.

Next, fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Into it, pour 2oz (about 50ml)  of Dry Gin. Add 3 teaspoons (15ml) of lemon juice and the same amount of maraschino liqueur.

Throw the water and ice out of your glass (into a sink preferably). Shake the cocktail vigorously, and strain (through a small sieve if you have one) into the glass. Add a morello cherry (with stem) to garnish. Drink, to use Harry Craddock’s words, “Quickly, while it’s laughing at you!”. Repeat.


Where to Buy The Ingredients

Waterford Elegance Champange Belle Coupe
£50 for two

Tanqueray 10 London Dry Gin

Luxardo Maraschino Originale

One comment

  1. The Aviation recipe to which you refer is from Ensslin’s 1916 book, as described in Wondrich’s ‘Imbibe!’
    Somewhat incongruously, Wondrich states in his Esquire column that

    ‘extensive research in the gin-drinks archive here at the Esquire Institute of Advanced Mixology has failed to turn up a mention of the Aviation prior to its appearance in English mixologist Harry Craddock’s 1930 Art Deco masterpiece, the Savoy Cocktail Book’

    To paraphrase Wondrich
    himself, the history of alcoholic drinks can often yield conflicting stories – because the people creating, researching and remembering that history often tended to be drunk!

    Historical accuracy is a game and an end in itself. When it comes to drinks and drinking, history is there to inform and inspire us, but attempting to find solid answers from liquid always ultimately leaves us with hot air.

    The way I choose to see it, history has gifted us a spectrum of glorious variations on this cocktail and the ‘truth’ is to be found at the confluence of time, mood and ingredients that suits us at the moment.

    The blue moon and the aviation to me sit at two ends of this continuum, and I choose to make a separation between Ted Haigh’s blue moon (made exclusively with creme yvette) and Craddock’s aviation (maraschino). In between we have the 1916 recipe, and that’s before we consider the delights of violette.

    Hell, throw an egg white in if the confluence takes you there. Add either liqueur to a white lady (Chelsea sidecar) or, gasp, both.

    The ‘correct’ drink is as you enjoy it. The only certainty is that you should be drinking it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *