Sunday, November 1, 2015

Around Town: Enjoying the real 'Aviation' cocktail

Another hot Monday night at the Flintridge Proper. The Happy Hour had come and gone. Now was the time for a real cocktail. On the table before me there was a small stemmed glass.

The 1935 edition of the Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book says, "Americans, as a rule, drink partly for the taste, mostly for the effect."

This cocktail had both taste and effect. It was blue-violet. It was blue like the sky, with a touch of purple twilight. It was worthy of its name: The Aviation.
I took a sip, sighed and put the glass back down. Then, I reached for my worn and tattered copy of "The Drunken Botanist" by Amy Stewart. I began to read.

"The Aviation cocktail is Chelsea Flower Show in a glass, combining gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de violette. And until a few years ago, it was impossible to make properly, because crème de violette had disappeared from the shelves."

The Aviation was the last American cocktail to be created and published before Prohibition. Sure there were speakeasies, but when Prohibition arrived in 1920, the production of crème de violette went right out the window.

It is impossible to make an authentic Aviation cocktail without crème de violette. Until recently, this essential liqueur, composed of violets, sugar and alcohol, was not available.

Some tried. There were substitutions. None worked. Extra maraschinos? Fail. Parfait armour? Fail. Crème yvette? Forget it.

The authentic Aviation requires crème de violette.

Here in La Cañada, the Flintridge Proper serves the authentic version of this cocktail.

The owners decided on the "Nick and Nora" glass for the Aviation. Those are the glasses used in the movie version of "The Thin Man."

Nick and Nora Charles were the intellectual property of the late mystery writer, Dashiell Hammett.

On the big screen, Myrna Loy played Nora and William Powell played Nick. They were often tipsy, sometimes drunk, back in the day when it was acceptable.

Nick, seldom boring, was often heroic. Try this dialogue for the morning after.

Nick is recuperating. He and Nora are reading the morning papers:

Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.

Nora: I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

The Nick and Nora cocktail glass is smaller than most, and as the Waldorf bar book notes, "the cocktail, taken according to general practice, is not sipped as is wine. If it is not gulped, it is usually finished in three swallows, or at most four."

It's not a contest. The cocktail glasses used to be smaller.

As for the Aviation, the Drunken Botanist is not strict about the measurements:

1 ½ oz. gin
½ oz. maraschino liqueur
½ oz. crème de violette
1 violet blossom

The recipe concludes, "adjust the proportions to your liking. Garnish with the violet blossoms."
Violet blossoms? Do they sell those at Trader Joe's?

Must. Have. Garnish.

L.A. Times archive
Around Town: Enjoying the real 'Aviation' cocktail

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