ONCE IN VOGUE BUT strenuously avoided (if not unknown) by bartenders for years, créme de violette is one of those distinctly floral mixers that people either love or hate. Currently, however, the sweet/sour cocktails made with the liqueur reportedly are making a comeback.
Made by steeping violets in brandy with added sugar, créme de violette was most popular from the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century, when German-born New York bartender Hugo Ensslin paired it with gin and lemon juice to create his famous Aviation cocktail. When Rothman & Winter, the last big European producer, stopped making it in the 1960s, the liqueur virtually vanished from most bartenders’ memories.
The company reintroduced its créme de violette on a limited basis (for export) in 2007, and there seems to be a resultant popularity of violet cocktails. Traditionally paired with a good, full-bodied gin, creme de violette may pair well, too, with the subtle nuances of some of the new, local craft gins. Classics like the Aviation and the Blue Moon have been revived, and new drinks are emerging that balance the sweet taste and fragrant nose of the liqueur against a stronger base, such as tequila, rum or bourbon—as in The Violet King (shown here), prepared by Valley at the Garrison.
Note: Ensslin’s original Aviation cocktail recipe was included in his modest, 76-page self-published book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916), which was reprinted in a second edition in 1917. Though Ensslin has faded into obscurity, his little softcover book has not–it is widely considered a classic reference and the original, even legendary 1916 edition is highly sought by collectors, historians and cocktail aficionados alike.