The Aviation

It appears that our outdoor table is not on level ground.

A toast! A toast, my friends!  As I mentioned last post, I am in the mood to toast all the glory that is summer. And there is no better way than to do so than with a funny little drink which requires a special trip to the liquor store.

Either for his birthday or Christmas, I cannot remember which, I bought this curious book, The Drunken Botanist, for the husband, in part because one rainy day last fall, the husband found a window seat in our favorite coast-side bookstore (Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino) and was leafing through it for a good 30 minutes. I filed that information quick, and I knew he would need to be the proud owner of this book in the future.

And it's right up his scientist's heart's alley.

Channeling your inner geek, you can explore the plants that are often turned into alcohol. From agave to wheat or monkey puzzle trees to nutmeg, this book gives an exhaustive look at how people have made hooch from just about everything. You can learn the inner secrets of the fungus botrytis cinerea which inflicts grapes with a nasty rot or the nuances of myrrh (not just for messiah gift-giving anymore!) and its supporting role in the making of both vermouth and Fernet.

This drink, The Aviation, comes pretty close to page 215, after the floral entries on jasmine, the opium poppy,  rose, and saffron (none of these entries had drink recipes within them, sadly). What, with regular old gin, maraschino liqueur, and crème de violette, this drink does require you to have some fancy little liquors on hand. However, I would argue it's worth it, at least once, for as soon as you mix them altogether, you get a lovely-shaded lavender drink that tastes like a candy store (or vaguely reminiscent of a grape Popsicle, but I may have been influenced by the color of the drink). Distinctly sweet and floral, this is a backyard sipping drink while you gaze up at the sky and ponder life's moments of summer relaxation.

Further, you might as well make your own maraschino cherries, given that you have already had to procure the maraschino liqueur. However, keep in mind maraschino liqueur has absolutely nothing to do with those glowing red-dyed cherries of your youth. Instead, this liqueur is clear, ultra-swanky, and ultra-sweet--not surprising since it is derived from the distillation of Marasca cherries from Croatia.

However, the star of the show is the crème de violette; a liqueur made from sweet violets and, according to the brand I bought: alpine sweet violets (can you get any fancier than that?). Sweet violets are unrelated to African violets, but are a close relative to Johnny-jump-ups and pansies. "The fragrance--and flavor--of violets is a tricky one. A compound called ionone interferes with scent receptors in the nose and actually makes it impossible to detect the fragrance after a few whiffs. There's also a genetic component to how we taste ionone: some can't smell or taste it at all, and others get an annoying soapy flavor rather than a floral essence."--or so says Amy Stewart, author of this charming compendium.

Apparently, back in the early 20th century, Hugo Ensslin concocted this lovely drink and made a little name for himself in a 1916/1917 bar book entitled Recipes for Mixed Drinks (one of the last cocktail books published before Prohibition). Since then, people have omitted and substituted for the crème de violette (including the more citrus-y Crème d'Yvette), but I suggest you channel your inner granny and use the crème de violette to make a drink that hearkens back to those floral violet candies that were ever-so-popular among the geriatric set.

So break out your latent scientist, grab this book, flip through a few pages to learn about how to ferment the Senegal gum tree or the savanna bamboo, and then settle into your inner granny, for it's time to toast the summer with a good old-fashioned cocktail that tastes like flowers and sugar. I am down with that.


The Aviation

Adapted from The Drunken Botanist

Makes 1 drink

½ ounces gin
½ ounce maraschino liqueur 
½ ounce crème de violette
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 violet blossom (or pansy or johnny-jump-up) or 1 homemade maraschino cherry

1. Shake all of the ingredients except the violet blossom (or cherry) over ice and serve in a cocktail glass. Some versions of this recipe call for less maraschino liqueur, less crème de violette, or less lemon juice; adjust the proportions to your liking.

2.  Garnish with a violet blossom or a homemade maraschino cherry.


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