Managing expectations is hard. I don’t know how often I have gotten all excited for something and then been disappointed. How many times I have not even been able to remember why I wanted something in the first place, when I finally got it. You know how it is, you wait months and months for that movie to come out or for the next season of a show and when it arrives, it is definitely not all that. I kind of feel that way about todays drink. When I see it on a menu I often order it, only to be mildly disappointed and remember that it is always the same, but I persevere, thinking that some day I will finally find the perfect one, even if I have to make it myself. So, please, won’t you join me now as we make the classic Aviation.
This drink checks so many boxes for me, yet I always walk away let down. Like a bad relationship, though, after a little time passes, I see it across the menu and think to myself, “I’ll just talk to it. Be polite, as one does, you know.” A few minutes later, I am committed to the order, waiting for it to arrive, for things to work out this time. All those times before, something got in the way. It wasn’t the drink’s fault that the bartender over diluted, or had a heavy hand on the violettes. Besides, I shouldn’t have had italian before drinks, it was probably the garlic throwing off the flavor profile. That’s it. it was my fault last time. This time will be different. It is ridiculous the mental gymnastics I have to go through to convince myself that this is an amazing drink, doing a great job. How I find ways to blame its poor performance on circumstances, the folks who helped get it to me or myself. There is one thing I know for certain, it is a good drink. The kind of drink I want in front of me on the bar.
This one was created by Hugo Esslin at New York’s Hotel Wallick and he included it in his 1916 “Recipes for Mixed Drinks“, so it has been around for a while. It is a nice and simple.All of the elements are there. It is very similar to one of my favorites, swap the flowers for herbs and switch lemons for lime and you have The Last Word, which I adore. I really do believe that the Aviation can be amazing, that there is some element that gets thrown off each time, but that the perfect version of this drink, at the right temperature will be a thing of beauty, I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe I need to just make it myself. Let’s see.
Grab your tins and pop in 2 ounces of gin, I went with the last of an amazing vintage bottle of Mischief out of Seattle; 1/4 ounce of maraschino liqueur, I went with Luxardo; 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice and the final, key ingredient, 1/4 of an ounce of creme de violette. This one can be difficult to source and there are only a few options. Looking at the history of the drink I opted for Rothman & Winter, which should be closest to how this drink was first created. I added two drops of homemade lavender bitters, for kicks, and some ice before shaking to the beat of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose“. I don’t know why, the drink is from New York, but it always makes me think of Paris, another city where it has disappointed me. Anyway, when your tins are good and cold, double strain into a chilled coupe, express a flamed lemon peel over it and garnish with a lemon pinwheel. Give it a good look, feel mild disappointment at it’s pale color. This is a drink that never turns out like the staged, photoshopped, gorgeous photos online. Make a quick decision to stir in a dash of Bakell Purple Edible Lustre Dust and transform this one completely. It is definitely purple enough now.
Here is the moment of truth, will it measure up? Sadly, no. It is good, it is just not amazing. It is floral forward, which makes sense, but the drink tastes shallow, if that makes sense. It is simple. You know how some things are defined more by what they lack, than by what they possess? That is this drink. It is shallow and simple, in that it lacks depth and complexity. Maybe that is as good as it gets. I still want to believe that I got something slightly wrong, that my ice was too wet. It is like I cannot believe that something with so much going for it could fail to rise to the occasion, time and time again. I will experiment some more, there are some riffs that I want to try, but I just don’t know. When do you cut your ties and give up on something you want to believe in?
I have done this so many times, been excited for something, gotten totally invested and then had to face that things are not as great as I had hoped. Iv’e done it with bottles of whiskey. I don’t want to speak ill of something many people love, but a couple of years ago, I found a very special scotch. I paid too much for it, but when opportunity strikes, sometimes you have to bite the bullet. I nosed it with reverence, raised my glencairn, marveled at the color and texture before taking a long, smooth sip of nothing special. I had to give it a moment to breathe and try again. Same result. I added a couple of drops of ice water to open it up. Different, but still nothing amazing. I had enjoyed much superior scotches at 1/10th of the price. I was invested, though. I wanted to believe that I was sampling something rare and amazing. I nearly convinced myself that the problem wasn’t the scotch, it was my palate. That I wasn’t sophisticated enough to enjoy something so rare. I had this so built up in my mind that I could not face the simple truth. I had chosen poorly. I had fallen for the hype, bought the sizzle instead of the steak. It was eye opening, to find myself so invested in a bad decision that I could not even consider the possibility that the scotch just sucked, that it wasn’t anywhere near what it sold itself as. I even defended it. Took the time to explain why it was so good to others. In retrospect, I have often wondered if my experience is unusual or if everyone gets it, is disappointed but then plays along like it is something amazing, only suited to those with the rarefied tastes to appreciate it. Yeah, we all got scammed, but nobody is going to admit that. Maybe we should, though. Maybe if we called the balls and strikes honestly and held the players accountable, the game would be more enjoyable for everyone. I know the drinks would be.
There you go, the classic Aviation, a drink which should be amazing. A drink that always sells it hard and talks a good game, but at the end of the day is nothing special and honestly, not really up to the job. It is a shame, it really is. I will probably try it again, mess with the recipe and see if I can find where it works. Maybe it could be a duke, it might make a kick ass duke. I might as well keep experimenting, I have a big old bottle of Creme de Violette that I have to find something do to with. If you take nothing else away from this one, remember to admit your mistakes, at least to yourself, so you can make better choices next time. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.