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The Aviation Cocktail

This one’s a longtime favorite around the house. Our favorite reaction when serving this cocktail has been from our friend Doug, who had never had anything like it when we served him one at a cocktail party several years ago. “This is an incredibly elegant drink,” he said. He’s right.

The earliest recipe for the Aviation was found in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, which first appeared in 1916 and has been lovingly reprinted in a gorgeous facsimile edition by Mud Puddle Books (buy it and others here). Turns out the original was made with crème de violette as well which, if you could even get an Aviation in a bar at all for the longest time, would be omitted. The slight purplish-blue cast makes it look like a clear sky perfect for flying, which makes the name of the cocktail make a bit more sense.

The thing about this cocktail is that you can vary the proportions very slightly and it makes a big difference in the final result. Any of them make a good version, but will it make the version you like?

This is the a good version of the typical Aviation you’ll see these days.


2 ounces gin (Plymouth is great here).
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur.

Shake with ice (10-15 seconds) and strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

This is still a good drink, but a lot of people tend to overdo it on the maraschino, which leads to an overly sweet drink that doesn’t let enough of the other flavors shine through. A lot of the time people will reverse the proportions of the maraschino and lemon, and I think that throws it off balance, especially if you’re using Luxardo Maraschino. That’s powerful stuff.

Here’s the version that appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book which, for some reason, left out the violette (amounts adapted from the original recipe proportions).

(Savoy version)

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes maraschino liqueur.

Shake and strain.

This is pretty tart, which is mighty fine with me but not so much for some folks. Erik Ellestad recommends adding 1/2 teaspoon of rich simple syrup to this version to help take the edge off the lemon, and that’s a good idea.

If you want to go back to the original you’ll need to add violette, and cut back on the maraschino a bit. Here’s Ensslin’s original, adapted with measured amounts:

Original version, 1916

1-1/2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes maraschino liqueur.
2 dashes crème de violette.

Shake and strain.

Here’s how we usually make them at home, either from Dave Wondrich’s adaptation of Ensslin’s recipe that’s a bit tarter, or ours that’s just a tad lighter on the liqueurs.

(adapted from the Hugo Ensslin recipe by Dave Wondrich)

2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1-1/2 teaspoons maraschino liqueur.
1/2 teaspoon crème de violette.

Shake & strain. No garnish.


(Chuck & Wes’ version)

2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 barspoon maraschino.
2 dashes crème de violette.

Shake and strain. No garnish.

Experiment with proportions, and see which one you like best.

The Black Feather

This one’s a Robert “DrinkBoy” Hess original.

Robert built a bar into his new house several years ago, and decided that it needed a personal cocktail that would be a signature drink. He decided that the cocktail should reflect the French design elements of the house by containing ingredients that are French in origin. It’s quite elegant, with a beautiful balance, et très délicieux.

Black Feather

2 ounces Cognac.
1 ounce dry (French) vermouth.
1/2 ounce Cointreau.
1 dash bitters.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds, until the shaker is frosty.
Strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a lemon peel.

I had had a really crappy day at work on Wednesday, compounded by a 75-minute drive home thanks to the transit strike, and this drink made me feel a lot better once I got home. Thanks, Robert!

Cocktail of the Day: Golden Dawn

Created by bartender Tom Buttery at the Berkshire Hotel, London in 1930, this was the winner of an international cocktail competition that year. (Today, I’ll take two, please.)

Golden Dawn

1/2 ounce gin.
3/4 ounce straight apple brandy or Calvados.
3/4 ounce Apry or other good apricot liqueur.
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
1 dash grenadine.

Combine all ingredients except the grenadine in a shaker with cracked ice. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, then add the dash of grenadine, which will sink to the bottom and give the drink its “golden dawn” appearance. Garnish with an orange half-slice.


The Fin de Siècle Cocktail

After I sent him the recipe for the Hoskins, Doc pointed out that it was a cousin of the Fin de Siècle cocktail, which indeed looked to me to be a sibling of the Hearst cocktail. If you throw in the Brooklyn, we’ve got ourselves quite a lovely little family, most with one gene in common — Amer Picon (or at least its American version, Torani Amer).

I’m really gettin’ to like that Amer, and will start to play with it a lot more. Oddly enough, the drink I first got it for, and the national drink of the Basques — Picon Punch — didn’t really do all that much for me when I first tried it. (UPDATE: I think it’s because the old vegetal-tasting formulation of Torani Amer didn’t really work all that well in a Picon Punch, but it does now. However, I digress …)

In the meantime … let’s mix:

Fin de Siècle Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Amer Picon.
1 dash orange bitters.

Stir with ice in a mixing glass for no less than thirty seconds.
Strain into a cocktail glass; no garnish.

I hope I don’t find myself wanting to drink ten of these tonight.

The Hoskins Cocktail

This is an original creation of mine, and, I think, my best yet.

Our good friends John and Fiona, whom we hadn’t seen in a few years, were visiting from England in September of 2003. They’re honorary Louisianians, being veterans of several Jazzfests (which is where we met them), and in honor of the long-overdue visit our mutual friend Diana challenged Wes and me to come up with an original cocktail in honor of their visit. I’d been running some ideas through my head, thinking of some flavor combinations from some of the the Mother-in-Law Cocktail ingredients that might work in different arrangements and quantities, and with a different base spirit.

Given John and Fiona’s native land, I decided to start with that most English of spirits, good ol’ Plymouth gin. In went the other ingredients, giving it a delightfully bitter and slightly nutty flavor balanced by sweetness and a touch of citrus. It’s orange-based, but not too “orangey” or overly citrusy. I think I hit it on the second try, with me mixing and Wes tasting and providing feedback, quality control and suggestions regarding ingredient quantities. We think it’s mighty tasty, and named it in honor of our friends. (Fortunately, they loved it, or we would have had to call it something else.)

This cocktail was created to feature the flavor of Torani Amer, an American version of the French bitter orange apéritif Amer Picon. Picon is more readily available in Europe, and while still a good product it’s a shadow of its former self. In the 1970s the makers of Amer Picon changed the recipe, dropped the proof by more than half, and sadly it doesn’t taste the same. (I’ve tasted some vintage Amer Picon, and that stuff is beyond extraordinary.) If you have one of the two current incarnations in Europe, Picon Bière or Picon Club, either is an acceptable substitute, but the best flavor comes from the Torani Amer (available via mail order from Beverages and More if you can’t find it locally) or from Jamie Boudreau’s recipe for home-made Amer Picon substitute which is informally known as “Amer Boudreau”.

The Hoskins Cocktail was featured in the September 16, 2004 edition of Gary Regan’s column “The Cocktailian”, which appears fortnightly in the San Francisco Chronicle. Besides the recipe (and some very nice compliments from Gary), it also features a thinly fictionalized appearance by John and Fiona as characters in the column. Gary had never met them, but as a fellow Englishman was able to suss out their tastes well enough such that John and Fiona were astonished at how accurately they were portrayed. In fact, several of our friends thought they really appeared in the Professor’s (fictional) bar in San Francisco, and one was even upset, thinking that they had made a visit to California without calling him! (All that to say, it’s a good column, and you should read it. Subscribe to Gary and Mardee Regan’s free newsletter and you’ll get the column in your email every other week.)

The Hoskins 

The Hoskins Cocktail

2 ounces Plymouth gin.
3/4 ounce Torani Amer (substitute Amer Picon or “Amer Boudreau”).
1/2 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
1/4 ounce Cointreau.
1 dash orange bitters.
Orange peel.

Combine in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Stir for no less than thirty seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, then flame an orange peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

To flame the orange peel, cut an oval-shaped piece of orange rind, approximately 1 by 1-1/2 inches, leaving a ring of about 1/4″ of zest around the circumference of the peel, with the white pith in the middle. Light a match; hold the peel gently by the edges, hold the match between the peel and the drink, slightly closer to the peel. In one motion squeeze the peel so that a spray of orange oil cascades over the lit match and ignites, while moving the peel slightly closer to the flame. You should see a little slick of caramelized orange oil on the surface of the drink, which makes it extra yummy.

If perchance you have some vintage Amer Picon from before the recipe was changed and you feel you can spare 3/4 ounce of it, it will send this drink over the top.

Oh, and of course, given how relatively difficult it is to find Torani Amer and orange bitters in the States, much less in the U.K., we got John and Fiona a supply of both. They agree that it’s kinda cool having your own house cocktail!

POSTSCRIPT: This drink has been very good to me.

I’m incredibly honored that some amazing bartenders have seen fit to serve this drink at their bars, including Murray Stenson (!!!) at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle, and Jackson Cannon at Eastern Standard in Boston. I can’t thank y’all enough.

Besides its first publication in the Chronicle (thanks, gaz!), the Hoskins cocktail has been published in the following books:

The Essential Bartender’s Guide, by Robert Hess (2008)
Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, 67th Edition, edited by Anthony Giglio & Jim Meehan (2008)
The Bartender’s Best Friend: A Complete Guide to Cocktails, Martinis, and Mixed Drinks, 2nd Edition, by Mardee Regan (2009)
The Cocktailian Chronicles, Vol. 1, by gaz regan & Stuffy Shmitt (2010)