15. Aviation cocktail

1 Aug

Not to cement international relations, not to advance the cause of commercial aviation, not for money or glory, James Goodwin Hall, War pilot, flew last week from Long Island to Havana in 23 min. less than Captain Frank Hawks’s record, and back in 8 min. more than the Hawks’ record. His cause: to arouse interest in “The Crusaders,” anti-Prohibition organization of which he is Manhattan chieftain. His plane, a fast Lockheed Altair painted yellow, blue & white, bears on its side the shield of the Crusaders with the legend “Help End Prohibition.”

Pilot Hall, wealthy broker, landed at Havana’s Columbia Field by mistake, then hopped over to Curtiss Field where a crowd awaited him and where William Pawley, president of Curtiss Aviation Co. of Cuba, handed him a cocktail as he stepped from the cockpit. He promptly ordered another, rested, flew back to Long Island to organize a national tour of flying Crusaders.

— “Aeronautics: For Drinking”, Time, 27 July 1931.

In 1916, when this cocktail is first recorded, manned flight in a powered, controlled and heavier-than-air craft had been a reality for a mere dozen or so years. On 17 December 1903 the Wright Flyer slipped the surly bonds of Earth for the first time, struggling heavenward for 12 seconds and travelling 120 feet. Yet within a short time aviation had become one of the era’s defining forms of spectacle: throughout the western world millions devoured the stories of the square-jawed aeronauts who strove, in increasingly sophisticated flying machines, and egged on by the prizes offered by newspapers like the New York Times or Britain’s Daily Mail, to soar higher, further and longer than their rivals, setting records, winning trophies, but often crashing and burning. Crowds gathered at “air meets” in Reims, Lanark, San Francisco or Brescia (where in September 1909, Franz Kafka, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Filippo Marinetti and Puccini were in attendance) to watch in wonder as pioneering birdmen like the Wrights, Louis Blériot, Adolphe Pégoud, Hubert Latham, Glenn Curtiss, and Lincoln Beachey took to the skies to race or perform stunts. In 1909 Blériot crossed the English Channel in a monoplane of his own design; in 1910 Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to hold a pilot’s license; in 1911 airmail was born; in 1913 Pyotr Nesterov flew a loop, Pégoud¹ achieved sustained inverted flight and Roland Garros crossed the Mediterranean from France to Tunisia. What did all these men and women have in common? One London phrenologist created a composite photograph of the leading aeromaniacs and concluded

that all his subjects have the uncertain glance which denotes a vain search for physical balance, the breadth above the eyebrows which reveals constructive ability, the rise over the eyebrows which shows daring, courage, and concentrated nervous energy, while all have in general expression benevolent, emotional, and imaginative qualities strongly marked . . .

— “The Aeroplane Face”, New York Times, 30 August, 1908.

Before the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, aviation had been celebrated in poetry, popular song and jokes. It even inspired a dance:

Paris has started a new dance which is quite the fashion. It is the outcrop of aviation, and is called “L’Aeronette”. It is the creation of M. Leport, the great dancing master of Paris.

It has four movements. In the first the couples dance a slow step, which is to imitate the rolling of the aeroplane. In the second movement the couple raise their arms slowly as they dance, which is to represent the rising of the aeroplane in the air. The third movement is difficult to describe. It is an irregular step to illustrate the unsteadiness of the aeroplane in its flight. The fourth movement describes the descent, which is a long, sliding step.

A humourist has insisted that there should be a fifth movement, which should be the crash of an aeroplane. When asked what the movement would be he said that all the couples should fall to the floor, and the quick pick up the dead.

— “An Aeroplane Dance”, New York Times, 5 December 1909.

Such was the rapid progress of aviation that one French writer, Henri Kistemaeckers, imagined in his satirical story Aeropolis that by 1922 the entire world would be airborne. High altitude flights were a cure for cancer and tuberculosis, rendering sanatoria obsolete; ethanol had replaced gasoline (!); a fatal epidemic was on the march, the work of a microbe that thrives in the darkness caused by the “cutting of the sunshine by the myriads of aeroplane wings that fill the upper air like a continuous flight of locusts”; and football was now played on “monoplanes with a little hydrogen-inflated balloon, butterfly nets on long poles, and the top of the Eiffel Tower for goal” (“The Diary of an Aviator in the Year 1922”, New York Times, 12 December 1909).

The aviation cocktail, as crisp and sharp as the bright blue sky, captures that awed fascination with the endless possibilties of air travel. The earliest recipe appears in Hugo R. Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks (New York: Fox, 1916), p. 7:

1/3 lemon juice

2/3 gin (London dry)

2 dashes maraschino

1 dash crème de violette

That prescription seems a little generous with the lemon at the expense of the maraschino and crème de violette, a combination that gives this cocktail its distinctive flavour, at once tart and flowery. So this is what I settled on, but there is plenty of opportunity for experimentation here:

2 oz. Bombay Sapphire gin

1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 oz. Bitter Truth crème de violette

2 teaspoons Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Garnish with a cherry.

Either by accident or design the Savoy Cocktail Book omits the crème de violette. It is essential, however: not only does it furnish the drink with the proper heavenly colour, but it also is an important component of the flavour: with it, the drink soars. Although the liqueur had become scarce, it is now easier to come by.
Don’t drink too many, or you might this happening to you:

Well, we tried th’ eerieplain cocktail three times: th’ first time we felt feathers growin’ outen our shoulder blades, th’ second time we spread out wings an’ give ‘em a flutter an’ thought we was a rooster; th’ third one, however, set our spark plug to workin’ an’ our ingine to putt-puttin’ an’, cantin’ edgewise so’s to go through th’ door we sweeped all th’ bottles off th’ bar an’ sailed out into th’ sunlight just ahead of a bungstarter with our feet a-draggin’ an’ our eyes a-poppin’. We don’t remember all th’ incidents of our flight; we only know thet th’ fire department was alled to quell us an’ that when th’ hose was first turned on us we thought we was a derned fool didapper an’ we tried ter dive an’ scraped th’ pavement, then we thought we had fell into the English channel whilst tryin’ to come across, an’ when we was picked up we was settin’ on th’ sidewalk usin’ a horse block fer a life-preserver to keep us from sinin’. Th’ eerieplain has our indorsement.

— “The Aeroplane Cocktail”, Washington Post, 29 August 1909, p. M1.

¹ Adolphe Pegoud could chalk up another first to his name: “Paris has a new drink called the Pegoud cocktail, which is the first cocktail officially claimed by France, all other cocktails being known only at American bars. The Pegoud cocktail is reported to be a fierce affair, supposed not only to create a brainstorm, but to ‘loop the loop,’ after imbibed” (Mixer and Server, vol. 23:3 [15 March, 1914], p. 46).

One Response to “15. Aviation cocktail”

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