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Spirits: We Want Creme Yvette!

How civilized does this look? (Lynn Brownlie)

In my column this week, I discuss old recipes and old tastes; in particular, the original recipe for the Aviation Cocktail as found in Hugo Ensslin's 1917 book, "Recipes for Mixed Drinks" (just reissued in a lovely facsimile edition by Mud Puddle Books).

Recipe Included

As recently as two years ago, there were two hurdles to making a real Aviation: (1) the original recipe was not widely known, and (2) the purple-hued, floral-scented creme de violette was not available. Now you can buy Rothman & Winter brand Creme de Violette, imported by Haus Alpenz.

But another purple-hued, violet-scented liqueur also was an early-20th-century staple, and for many of us, it has become sort of the Holy Grail of lost liqueurs. 

The name is Creme Yvette. I've mentioned it before, in a column about the competitive game of Liquor Store Archaeology that my brother and I play. It's often called for in classic cocktail recipes, particularly in the Blue Moon and the Aviation (keep reading).

Well, it seems the wait is about over.

Rob Cooper of Cooper Spirits International (who also imports the popular St. Germain elderflower liqueur) soon will re-release the original Creme Yvette. Cooper's family business, the Philadelphia-based Charles Jacquin et Cie, has owned the recipe for decades but discontinued the product in 1969.

I've had a chance to taste Creme Yvette, and it's quite a different spirit from the Rothman & Winter brand: more complex, with tastes of berries and spices, and more pronounced vanilla and honey flavors.

Creme Yvette should be available before the end of the the year, but -- and here's the small catch -- only in New York. Washington will have to wait. As usual. Hopefully, some topnotch bartenders such as Derek Brown, Gina Chersevani and Todd Thrasher will be able to get their hands on a few bottles. But those who shop in local liquor stores will have to be patient.

"I keep pleading with them to launch in D.C.," Joe Riley of Ace Beverage wrote me in an e-mail. "They already have a distributor, and it is the easiest thing in the world to introduce new spirits here." Joe speaks for many Washington-area cocktail enthusiasts when he writes: "Frankly, I get tired of D.C. playing second fiddle to NYC. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's the biggest market in the country, but considering that we draw from Maryland and Virginia as well, our market is also substantial."

I'm sure Rob Cooper is trying his best to get Creme Yvette here as fast as he can. But after all, we've waited 40 years!

-- Jason Wilson

Aviation Cocktail (original version)
1 serving

For years, because Creme Yvette (or any creme de violette) was unavailable, many didn't know the true origin of this pre-Prohibition classic cocktail. The blue tint that the purple liqueur gives to this drink explains its name. As always, do not confuse — and never replace — maraschino liqueur with the juice from maraschino cherries or with other cherry spirits.

Adapted from "Recipes for Mixed Drinks," by Hugo R. Ensslin (Fox Printing House, 1917; facsimile edition, Mud Puddle Books, 2009).

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce Creme Yvette or creme de violette

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and Creme Yvette or creme de violette. Stir vigorously, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass.

By The Food Section  |  October 7, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, Spirits, recipes  
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