Friday, November 22, 2013

Color Us Confused

We knew aviators were supposed to be blue, and I had in fact seen a blue one with my own eyes at the Flatiron Lounge. It tasted exactly like ours, and from what I knew had the same ingredients. So why were ours purple, and theirs were blue?

Cosmo Searcher Illustrator Barbara, acting on a tip from Reader Barbara, watched a video about how to make an aviator (or aviation, which I think we may have to start calling them). The bartender (who mispronounces maraschino, but whatever) put everything in a cocktail shaker, including the crème de violette, and shook. (Our method had been to add the violette after the other ingredients had been shaken and poured into the glass, which is how I had seen it done somewhere else.) The result is a beautiful blue drink! So now we are shaking all. (The recipe on the video also includes some simple syrup, which Barbara used in our drinks last week. I would just as happily omit that in the future. The sweetness didn’t add much except another step.) We’re hoping some of the scientifically inclined readers will tell us why stirring yellow and purple results in a violet-colored drink while shaking the exact same ingredients gets you one the color of the wild blue yonder.

In other aviation news, Bottle Bargains in Northport now carries maraschino! That is BIG news, because it’s been very hard to get. Even stores in the city who seemed to carry it must have had only one bottle, because after I went back after my initial purchase, they didn’t have it for months. Maybe the article in the Huffington Post is responsible!

Here’s a link to the video:

It mentions Aviation Gin as the inspiration for the drink. I think we’ll have to get some.

Friday, August 9, 2013

You Say Potato, I Say Mar-ra-SKEEN-o

The last post inspired me to buy the version of The Great Gatsby, read by Jake Gyllenhal. It was excellent, but I was irritated by Jake’s pronunciation of coupe. When talking about Tom Buchanan’s blue car (not to be confused with Gatsby’s yellow one) Jake says, “coo-PAY.” Since confusion over the cars is a key plot point, the word comes up a lot. As it turns out, Jake’s pronunciation is the way coupe would have been pronounced in the 1920s, although after WWII it changed gradually to the one used in the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” so I guess it’s acceptable. (Totally unacceptable was his pronunciation of claret. He rhymed it with his pronunciation of coupe, and that was not right in any time or place.)

Which brings us to maraschino liqueur, a key aviator ingredient. It’s pronounced mar-ra-SKEEN-o and has as much to do with neon-red maraschino cherries we’re familiar with as neon-orange Cheez Whiz has with a wheel of Brie.

The liqueur is produced by Luxardo and according to the company site, it’s one of the few liqueurs produced by distillation. I don’t know what that means, but it’s responsible for being “fine and well amalgamated without any aggressive note.”

The Luxardo site is fascinating. The company has been around since 1821, founded in a city on the Dalmatian Coast. To read the “About” section is to get a crash course in geopolitics and Italian-Croatian-Austro-Hungarian history as written by the vanquished. It’s intense and recommended.

But back to the cherries: Maraschino liqueur is made from marasca cherries, a small, dark, sour cherry grown in the coastal region of Croatia, northern Italy and that area. When preserved in Maraschino liqueur, marasca cherries were called maraschino cherries. Back in the 1800s, they were a delicacy for royalty and the wealthy.

Jump to the turn of the 20th century in the US: After experimenting with different flavors of cherries and flavorings for a home-grown version, American producers land on the sweet, light-colored Queen Anne cherry, bleached and then brined, and over the next decades perfected the preserve solution to its present-day recipe of food coloring and sugar syrups. (Interesting sidebar: A few years ago, Brooklyn beekeepers were alarmed to find their hives filled with red honey, only to learn that the bees had been hitting the sweet effluvium at Dell’s maraschino cherry factory in Red Hook.)

Any connection to the original marasca cherry is in name only and even then only as written, not pronounced. Speaking of which, how will we move forward when talking about it? Will we be correct and have people think we are wrong, or will we go with the accepted pronunciation and inwardly cringe, as when we order "bru-shet-ta" while knowing full well the second syllable should have a hard "k"? We will discuss this evening over an Aviator.

PS: It's JILL-en-hall, at least in this country.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Off We Go into the Wild Violet Yonder

My father was an airline pilot, and back in the ‘60s, one of his uncles used to refer to him as “my nephew, the aviator.” Being an airline pilot was a prestigious job held by men (exclusively) who were treated like celebrities (I witnessed it many times), but they weren’t usually called aviators, except by Uncle Max. Aviators were of a different time and place, with a different allure. Yes, there was romance to commercial air travel (something it’s hard to remember as you’re standing barefoot on line hoping your underwire bra won’t set off the metal detector and wondering if you’ll walk away without your retrieving your laptop, again), but it was in a cool, mid-century Mad Men kind of way. Absent was the derring-do of early pioneers like Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes, who really were celebrities. In other words, more Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator than Leonard DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.

And it’s those early days of flight that the name “Aviator” conjures up. Like the Cosmopolitan, the Manhattan, the Martini and the Singapore Sling, it brings to mind women in bias-cut gowns and men in dapper suits sipping out of cocktail glasses in soigne Art Deco speakeasies. In other words, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby, not Leonardo Di Caprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

In everything I’ve read about it, the Aviator, created by the head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York in 1911, is called one of the all-time classic cocktails. That’s surprising to me, since no one I’ve mentioned it to has heard of it except my daughter Clementine, who saw it on the menu in a Brooklyn cocktail lounge. She and I were at the Flatiron Lounge last week, and it looked like the kind of place that would serve Aviators – landmark building, vintage Art Deco interior, historic mahogany bar, cobalt mirror from the 1920s. Our order was received without a bat of the eye. When our drinks arrived, they were a beautiful shade of purple. Purple!

As it turns out, the original Aviator (or Aviation, as it is also called; more on that next time) included a splash of crème de violette, a liqueur that disappeared from the Savoy Cocktail Book’s recipe for the drink in the 1930s, and then disappeared from US liquor stores in the 1960s until 2007, when it was imported again. I found a bottle at Flatiron Wine & Spirits, a store halfway between where I work and the Flatiron Lounge. Barbara and I will be experimenting with our own recipe tonight. Check back for details.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cosmos Has Spoken: Welcome to the Summer of the Aviator

It started on Barbara’s birthday back in May when her friend Dave gave her the fixings for a cocktail neither she nor I had heard of: the Aviator. Under his guidance, Barbara made a batch, we tried it, it was fine, and then she and I went back to our Junos. For those who don’t remember what a Juno is:

On my birthday a week later, Barbara and I split an Aviator during a weekday lunch. Without the Juno distraction we gave it more consideration, and we really liked it. A tart, sharp taste, different from a Juno, but with the similar bite. A nice change of pace.

We each had our own a few days later, and walking back from Barbara’s I thought that maybe we had found our next drink for if not forever than at least the summer. I wasn’t sure, though.

That night, I logged on to Netflix and saw one of the “Top 10 for Mary” picks was The Great Waldo Pepper, a movie about a post-WWI biplane pilot—or aviator, if you will. (I first saw it on a plane, an odd choice for in-flight entertainment since it includes not one but multiple plane crashes.)

I laughed at the coincidence. I decided to not watch a movie but to read a book I had just picked up from the library, TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann. I didn’t know what it was about and had only chosen it because I liked the author’s previous book, Let the Great World Spin. I settled in and looked at the jacket copy: “Two aviators set course in a modified bomber for Ireland… . “ Ha!

I read for a bit and then turned on the TV. What came on? The movie Airport, on a channel I’m sure I didn’t even know we had. And that—seeing Dean Martin, the Rat Packer who was known for always having a drink in his hand, as an airline pilot—clinched it. The cosmos was trying to tell me something.

We’ll have more about this classic cocktail in the coming weeks. But for now, welcome to the summer of the Aviator. Happy Solstice.

The Aviator (also called the Aviation)

2 ounces Gin

½ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce Maraschino liqueur

Add ingredients to ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Flamed lemon twist for garnish.