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.
I 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.