Monday, September 3, 2007

The Aviation Cocktail

There's so much going on in this drink it's a challenge knowing where to begin. The variations in flavors of different gins? The importance of fresh lemons? An unusual ingredient called Maraschino Liqueur? The drink's history?

Maraschino liqueur is the one thing which really sets this cocktail apart. Once a staple behind the bar, it's now difficult to find this clear, sweet spirit outside of the best stocked liquor stores. Astor Wines, I might add, has bottles of both the Luxardo and the Stock in abundant supply. Add it to your bar today and try out some of the true classics.

Made from Italian marasca cherries and bearing absolutely no resemblance to the lurid maraschino cherries hiding in the back of your refrigerator, Luxardo's maraschino liqueur comes in a green straw wrapped bottle with a red cap. Imported from Italy, it is one of the few liqueurs created by distillation. The cherries and their crushed pits are processed in a similar way to brandy, which explains the similar sweet strength. At 64 proof, it's not as strong as Cointreau or other quality liqueurs, but it certainly isn't for the DeKuyper shot crowd. And honestly, doesn't 'maraschino' have a nicer ring to it than 'Hot Damn!' or 'Mad Melon Liqueur'? Maraschino liqueur is not for the frat boy set. And how about this, from the wonderfully translated Italian site:

Maraschino Luxardo is a classic. The typical straw coated bottle is by now a true icon on the mass consumption scenario.

I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds good!

It should be obvious that freshly squeezed lemon juice is not optional, it's essential. Experience tells me, of course, that this knowledge is neither obvious nor widely believed. Take this piece of advice: squeeze your lemons, limes, and oranges or don't bother making cocktails. These are irreplaceable.

And now, on to the gins. My dear friend Mister Mulder over at The Daily Pour suggested we begin with Hendrick's, proudly marketed as unusual and not for everyone. What makes it unusual? Cucumber and rose petals to start. And a bottle that looks like it should be filled with magic tonic or elixir sold from the back of a wagon. But this was not the right choice for an Aviation - there was too much rosiness overpowering the sweet and sour.

Tanqueray followed. But again, it just wasn't quite the right choice. There was too much juniper berry flavor and, overall, too much gin-ness. Tanqueray also has a certain harshness to it that isn't as present in other gins. Just because I have it in my cabinet does not mean I rate it as an equal to Hendrick's, Bombay Sapphire, Citadelle, or Plymouth.

The clear winner, at the end of the evening turned out the be Bombay Sapphire. Neither of us expected this to be the case, but the combination of fresh lemon juice, Sapphire, and maraschino liqueur was the best Aviation of the bunch. But don't take my word for it. Go home and shake up a few to taste for yourself. It's a highly subjective thing, the cocktail, and you may find you really prefer Hendrick's or Gordon's or even that slum lord Five O'Clock. But there's no substitute for experience.

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