I married a cocktail nerd. Our bar is stocked with basics, intermediate liqueurs and extreme indulgences. I know what makes whiskey different from whisky and how to flame an orange peel. But I haven't always been like this. There was a time when I didn't think I liked any brown spirits, a tequila shot was my preferred drink and I thought gin only went with tonic.
Luckily, I had a cocktail spirit guide to bring me out of this dark place. That spirit guide was my uncle Mitch -- a fantastic cook and writer, a frequent teller of excellent and foul-mouthed jokes and a very, very handy person to have behind the bar. Mitch has an incredible ability to know what I will like before I like it. Which is why, on the fateful day in question, our conversation about the Aviation cocktail went like this:
Mitch: How about an Aviation?
Me: What's in that?
Me: I don't really like gin.
Mitch: Aviations it is.
I am very, very lucky that I knew better than to argue. The Aviation cocktail was invented by Hugo Ensslin, the head bartender at Times Square’s Hotel Wallick in the early 20th century. The bracing mix of gin and lemon juice is tempered by two other essential ingredients: maraschino liqueur and violet liqueur.
Don't run away -- maraschino liqueur is not bright red and it isn't what you think. This stuff is pressed from the stems and seeds of Italian marasca cherries. It is crystal clear, pronounced "mare-uh-SKEE-no" and has about as much to do with the maraschino cherries of our youth as Creamsicles have to do with oranges.
As for the violet liqueur, the two most common ones used are Creme de Violette and Creme Yvette. This ingredient lends the Aviation its beguilingly light floral notes and tinges the drink lightly sky blue.
This cocktail has converted more people who thought they hated gin than I can count at this point, and for that, we all have to thank Mitch.