The Casino and Aviation Cocktails

Prohibition-separated partners from a bygone era

The Recipes

If you want to know more, read on. If you’re just here for a recipe, here it is. Mix away, and Cheers.

The Casino

  • 1 1/2 oz. Old Tom Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Maraschino Luxardo
  • 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 2 Dashes Orange Bitters
  • Maraschino Cherry for Garnish

Stir all ingredients together and serve straight up. Garnish with a cherry.

The Aviation

  • 1 oz. Old Tom Gin
  • 1/4 oz. Maraschino Luxardo
  • 1/4 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 oz. Creme de Violette
  • Maraschino Cherry for Garnish

Stir all ingredients together and serve straight up. Garnish with a cherry.

The Experience

The Casino and its light-blue brother The Aviation are cocktails with a pre-prohibition legacy. They have the feel and taste of years of experience and will unapologetically bring out their old-fashioned sensibilities and mop the floor with you if you don’t mind your P’s & Q’s.

The Casino is like a private detective in an old black-and-white movie who lost his partner in some past-tense foolishness. He uses words like dames and gumshoe and wears a three-piece suit with a trench coat even when it’s hot outside. He subsists on hooch straight from a hip flask and if he needs something more substantial, it’s warmed-up leftovers that don’t remember ever being a meal pushed across the bar by a sympathetic dame who has a soft spot for our hero but never says so.

Rough around the edges is a perpetual state of being, but no matter the danger, he’s always working for good because he doesn’t know any other way to be. He’s the hero you can count on to show up effortlessly at exactly the right moment with precisely the right tool for the job. If he offers you a helping hand, you take it without hesitation because you know it’s sturdy, sure, and safe.

The Aviation is his partner, twins in sensibility and sense of duty and lost to the past-tense foolishness of The Noble Experiment. Back in a modern form, but unfortunately only a sensory memory that we collectively can’t recall how to enjoy with the same fervor.

You’re not traveling, so get that experience at home.

To fully experience these drinks, you have to be willing to mentally journey to the era where women wore thick dresses, high heels, and bras that resembled climbing harnesses while the men dressed in suits for dinner, fedoras for baseball, and bit the ends off of cigars for pretty much any occasion. Your bar is an old neighborhood kind of place where the bartender knows more than he lets on, but still calls you “Mack”. That’s not to say that these are chauvinistic drinks, the Casino respects a woman who is willing to stand her ground and is chivalrous even at his own peril. And the Aviation is purple and made with flowers for God’s sake.

Set your bar with things that remind you of the gritty era of sepia-toned photographs and top-button formality. If you have suspenders that aren’t part of a Halloween costume or a hat that Don Draper might wear then put them on. For the ladies, be formal, but don’t forget your stiletto blade in case you have to flash it to remind the men that you can take care of yourself.

The History

These cocktails are usually credited to a bartender named Hugo Ensslin who listed them both in his 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ensslin was the bartender at New York’s Wallick Hotel and published his book “to give a complete list of standard mixed drinks that are in use at present in New York City…” (p.5).

Ensslin himself does not claim to have invented these drinks in anything that I can find, so with Casino in hand, I did a little digging (effective research requires refreshment).

In a 1909 book called Louis’ Mixed Drinks, by Louis Muckensturn, I found 7 cocktails that use a combination of Maraschino, Orange Bitters, and Gin including The Gin Cocktail (listed twice with two different recipes), Margeurite Cocktail, H.P. Whitney Cocktail, Yale Cocktail, Marliave’s Cocktail, Martini Cocktail. While several of these add some sort of Vermouth, the Yale Cocktail specifies adding Crème D’Yvette which was a forerunner of the modern Crème De Violette. None of them specify lemon juice.

Though Louis has a great last name and mustache that matches, I wouldn’t use his publication to dispute the idea that Ensslin did invent or name either cocktail. We could get into the discussion of how many ingredients or proportions need to be changed to rename a drink, but I really don’t have time, inclination, or a sufficient number of available brain cells for such a discussion, especially after several research-based attempts.

So, let’s get to the drinks.

First, the Casino has recipes ranging from Ensslin’s Gin-heavy recipe that lists “one drink” of Old Tom Gin and 2 dashes of each of the other ingredients, to the softer IBA recipe that uses 40 ml Gin, 10ml each Maraschino and Lemon Juice and 2 dashes of Orange Bitters. David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks even substitutes Orange Juice for Bitters in an 8:1:1:1 ratio.

As you might expect, for a drink that has 4 distinct ingredients there are many variations listed under the same name. Everybody seems to have a different perspective and you don’t want to go through each of them to find the right one. You especially do not want to start that perilous journey on a random Tuesday after work.

I have done some experimenting and there are some things you’ll want to be sure of when choosing your proportions.

Use Old Tom Gin. I tried several versions with other Gins and Old Tom has a flavor that not only complements the other ingredients perfectly but makes you feel like you’re drinking an old-school cocktail. With respect to those recipes that specify Bombay Sapphire or even Tanqueray, there is something about the smooth taste and feel of Old Tom that makes this drink better.

After that, I like the proportions detailed on the Difford’s Guide website with an extra dash of Orange Bitters as I have described above. Adjust from there if you like, but tread carefully because even a small adjustment can really change the taste and feel.

The Aviation suffers even more from indecision because Crème de Violette is a new version of an old liqueur. This beautifully-purple beverage is heavily floral, so you need to pour carefully to make sure your drink doesn’t taste like you’re sipping on a field of wildflowers.

Adjusting the other ingredients allows the Maraschino and Lemon to balance out the floral notes while still letting all the goodness come through. Using 1/4 oz. of the purple stuff also makes a very pretty drink.

And… sip.

You definitely want to start with a small sip. The hard, unwavering taste of Gin provides a solid base for the other flavors to gather around. You’ll soon awaken to subtleties of flavor and texture as you let these drinks guide you through their world like a tour of a place and time long forgotten.

Of course, these are one man’s opinions and sanctioned only by me and those who drink at my home bar. But, if you don’t mind a bit of a journey, these drinks will provide a sure and stable guide. Cheers.

Embury, David, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Mud Puddle, Inc., 1948

Ensslin, Hugo R., Recipes for Mixed Drinks, Second Edition, New York, 1916–17

Muckenstern, Louis, Louis’ Mixed Drinks, Boston & New York, H.M. Caldwell Co., 1906

Loves writing, loves teaching, and loves his 7-year-old daughter. All of which are potential topics of hopefully entertaining posts.

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