Seeing Double

As the creeping madness that is cocktailphilia gradually overtakes its victim, it’s not unusual for he or she to gradually become consumed with the pursuit of ever-more obscure ingredients. At first, depending on the victim’s location and his or her proximity to decent liquor stores, this obsession may focus on the hunt for maraschino liqueur, Parfait Amour and orange bitters. Later, more difficult-to-find items such as Dutch gin, rhum agricole, Carpano Antica and small-batch rye whiskies become the subjects of endless Internet searches and furtive shopping expeditions. Left untreated, the victim is soon doomed, consumed by a keening longing for Swedish Punsch, pimento dram and Amer Picon.

Blue MoonI write all this while basking in the glow of a recent obscure booze fix. I finally have in my liquor cabinet a bottle of creme de violette, a liqueur unavailable in the United States (and relatively hard to find, though available, in Europe and Japan) and a vital component to such golden-oldie cocktails as the Addie, the Blue Moon and the original (so I’m told) Aviation. A frantic search through wine and spirits shops in France last summer failed to turn up any violette, and I’d long been planning to special order a bottle from Sally Clarke’s in London, only to have my dreams shattered earlier this month by the news that they no longer stocked the item.

Leave it to the readers of this humble little blog to fix me up, though. Thanks to Chris and Julia, who live in Tokyo but frequently visit Seattle, I’m the proud owner of a bottle of Suntory’s Hermes Creme de Violette, a bright-tasting liqueur with a deep violet color. (As a matter of taste comparison, last night I had the pleasure to sample some G. Miele Liqueur de Violette — thanks to John Pyles, who shares this affliction — which had a more subtle violet flavor but a longer finish than the Hermes.) Obscure ingredient in hand, I was ready to set my shaker in motion.

First drink to try? A Blue Moon — simply a gin sour with the violette in place of the sugar (or, if you like, an aviation with violette in place of the maraschino). No easier said than done…

Except, it’s not quite that easy (Warning: If you’d rather not geek out over this too much, feel free to skip down to the recipe). I’d been accustomed to thinking of the Blue Moon along the lines of the recipe listed by David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks: 8 parts gin, 2 parts lemon juice, 1 part violette (Crosby Gaige lists a similar recipe, of the 4:1:1 ratio, in his Standard Cocktail Guide from 1944; a year later, he sweetened it up to a 2:1:1 ratio in his Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion, and Vic Bergeron used this same recipe in his Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide). Still, proportions aside, it seems fairly straightforward.

But then, I checked the Esquire Drink Book from 1956, and found another Blue Moon, this one in the form of a standard 2:1 dry martini with a dash of orange bitters and an added dash of Creme d’Yvette, a defunct brand of the violette. Patrick Gavin Duffy confuses matters even further — something he’s good at doing — in his Standard Bartender’s Guide from 1948 (I don’t have an earlier version; maybe someone who does can help me out) by offering this same recipe, but then indicating that after the drink is mixed and strained into a cocktail glass, it should be topped off with Claret. Weird, huh?

So, nothing to do but to try them both (using Embury’s drier recipe for the first, and Esquire’s claret-free version for the second). The verdict? Equally lovely.

Blue Moon #1 (adapted from David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks*)

  • 2 ounces gin (I used Bombay)
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce creme de violette

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

* Embury also calls this drink a Blue Devil, and indicates an egg white may be added to the cocktail for extra body.

Blue Moon #2 (adapted from Esquire Drinks Book)

  • 2 ounces gin (I used Plymouth)
  • 1 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash creme de violette

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

28 Responses to Seeing Double

  1. I’m so jealous you have your own bottle. Murray made us drinks with the Hermes Violet over the summer, and they were lovely. I don’t know what I was expecting creme violette to taste like, but I was pleasantly surprised.

  2. Thanks to a good friend visiting from Paris, I too have have just acquired a bottle of liqueur de violette, in my case the Benoit Serres (which, in Paris, is only available at Fauchon, according to the manufacturer). I’ll be back home in Seattle in a few days and ready to crack it open!

    [Hi Anita!]

  3. Murray was kind enough to share some with us also. I was expecting a more over-the-top floral scent and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t there. What a find!

  4. omg! I must be doomed. I was reading through paragraph one and realized I have all those ingredients, save the Punsch. I also do not have the violette. Curses. My quest continues.

  5. Benoit Serres is good but hermes is by far the better product for blue moon’s.Tried it a few times with Benoit they are good but tried it once with hermes and it is a truely amazing drink.

    Just wondering if anyone has tried it with a older no longer available creme de violette and an available one? Just wondered the difference’s

    Thanks
    Jack@lab

  6. With all of this high interest in oddball liqueurs and other exotic spirits, I have to wonder why some enterprising liquor wholesaler doesn’t set up shop importing them. I’m sure a case of Violette liqueur would sell out in a day in a city like NYC, Chicago or Seattle.

    I’d do it myself, but unfortunately I live in a Soviet-style control state.

  7. The only Violet Liqueur I’ve tried so far is the Benoit Serres. I have to admit it can be a bit hard to control in a cocktail. A bit like Absinthe. A little goes a long way.

    Amusingly, one of my favorite cocktails with it so far, the ATTY, combines both Violet Liqueur and Absinthe.

  8. Mmmm, yes! A Japanese friend recently brought over a bottle for me (in exchange for feeding her cat while she was there), and I have been enjoying it quite a lot (nice that a little does go a long way).

    I’ve been having a lot of Aviations, using these proportions:
    1.5 oz Gin (Plymouth or other)
    0.5 oz lemon juice
    0.5 tsp Maraschino (Luxardo)
    0.5 tsp Violette (Hermes)

  9. Patrick Gavin Duffy’s “Official Mixer’s Manual”, copyright 1940 has the same Blue Moon recipe that you’ve published above.

  10. Furthermore, the 1937 book, “1800-And All That- Drinks Ancient and Modern” by R. de Fleury lists the Blue Moon as 3:1, gin to creme Yvette. No claret, no vermouth. no lemon.

  11. Great find Paul!

    I completely sympathize with your first paragraph – Gretchen finds it quite amusing how I always add liquor shops to our itinerary while traveling.

    Old Tom gin seems to be nigh impossible to find, and if I’m remembering right, that’s because nothing like it is made anymore. I’ve heard that just sweetening up gin is not an acceptable substitute. Though Tanqueray Malacca + simple syrup was claimed to be similar to the original, sadly it’s not made any more either. Any ideas?

  12. I could personally come up with 20+ people in NY who would buy a couple bottles each…its really a shame that no one is distributing it.

    I’m stuck with subbing Parfait Amour or begging a friend to give me a little.

  13. Hey all. I too had heard of the mythical violet liqueur and went on a hunt. Especially after Murry, Casey and Ben took care of me with an original Avation and an Atty. A little does, indeed go a long way buy oh my, my… After a bit of research I found a guy on ebay who sells stuff in GBP (Great British Pounds) who will sell you a bottle of Hermes Violet as a “collectable bottle” if you write him a nice note and then watch his ebay store until he gets around to it. The important thing to remember is that you’re buying the bottle and NOT the contents which he must list as ‘unfit for human consumption’. So, ahem… Given all those dire warnings, give him a try. His ebay username is: taro1968 and his ebay store (currently empty) is called “Tokyo Merchant”. The price was fair, the shipping cost insane and the product was less unfit for human consumption than one might expect…

  14. …oh, one more thing. If you’ve never tasted creme violet and want to know if you like the flavour before spending many hours and many more dollars searching down a bottle, find a high end candy store that has “C. Howards” violet flavoured candies. Some people call them Chowards due to the small print on the label (which is violet in colour) They used to stock them at Larrys but, you know… They come in a pack like life savers except square and with no hole-

  15. To add to Hal’s source, I know of another seller on eBay who occasionally carries Hermes Violet. He goes by “timerto” and his store is called “tokyobaron”. I have his permission to pass on his email – esonares (at) yahoo (dot) com – if you wish to contact him. You can also order directly from his website:
    http://www.tokyobaron.com/bottles/_hermes.php
    The Violet isn’t currently listed, but he says that he should have it in stock soon. He also sells the incredibly hard to find Hermes Orange and Aromatic bitters – mine arrived just yesterday (YES!).

  16. There are quite a few places in London that stock it, I’ve seen some in Gerry’s but didn’t buy it because my other half wanted to get it for my birthday. Maybe if you dropped them a line they may be able to arrange shipping to the US, or if you’re nice enough to me I could maybe arrange something ;) (seriously, I could arrange a shipment to the US)

    The London spirit stores:
    http://www.urbanpath.com/london/spirits-alcohol/index.htm

  17. Just wanted to let everyone know that we sell Creme de Violette here at Morrell Wine. We sell the Rothman & Winter product. Very lovely. And we ship everywhere in the States. Enjoy gents!

    -Ryan

  18. Here at Liberty in Seattle, we make the Blue Moon when we have the liquor available. I’m working with a few bars here to get the state to import it, but…yeah.

    Here at Liberty, we primarily try to do the ol’ pre-prohibition cocktails (plus lots and lots of bourbon), and that Hermes Violet lends itself very well to that style.

    Stop on by and say hello, or, I’ll see y’all down at Zig Zag!

  19. A creme de violette by Rothman & Winter (from Austria) is now being imported. At least one store in Boston carries it.

  20. The French creme de violette you mention is actually G. Miclo. I just bought some of their creme de violette and creme de rose from http://www.samswines.com. (They don’t ship to every state, fyi–I had mine shipped to NJ. You have to call to order the violette; they don’t list it on their website, but they’ve got it.) Am excited to finally be able to try these recipes! —And eventually to compare the Miclo with the Rothman and Winter.

  21. As others have recently said, the Rothman and Winter product is now being imported into the states. I get it at my local shop in San Francisco.

    I have a friend that got a bottle of the Hermes from a friend coming back from Japan. I’ve given them both a taste and prefer the Rothman product, at least in an aviation – iRothman and Winters is not as sweat and has more floral flavors. The Hermes has the bit of a fake flavor that some liqueurs can have.

    Either way, thanks for all the info on the Blue Moon, I’ll have to try it instead of my usual Aviations.

  22. [...] ¼ dry vermouth, and 2 dashes of orange bitters. The third, and most beloved, cocktail was the Blue Moon a lemony concoction of 2oz gin, ? oz fresh lemon juice and ? oz crème de violette. If you prefer [...]

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