DOTW: Blue Moon

Posted by Anita on 08.31.07 7:02 AM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedUnless you’re a certified cocktail obsessive, you’ve probably never even heard of the gin-based cocktail known as the Blue Moon. Originally, the drink was close kin to the better-known Aviation: a heavy dose of gin with a splash of lemon, tinted a pale blue with Creme Yvette, a long-lost violet liqueur lashed with vanilla and other spices. The family resemblance doesn’t stop there: Cocktail historians tell us that the original Aviation contained both Creme Yvette and Maraschino liqueurs, and its name’s a nod to its original wild-blue-yonder tint.

After the Yvette disappeared, bartenders substituted other less-complex brands of creme de violette to create this once-popular violet cocktail. But soon, even the substitute became nearly impossible to find. Cocktail geeks would rummage through French liquor stores during their vacations, looking for hard-to-find bottles of a version made by Benoit Serres. Those with an unlimited cocktail budget might order a bottle of Suntory’s Hermes Violet from one of the eBay sellers based in Japan. But, without going to extraordinary lengths, it simply wasn’t possible to make anything close to a proper Blue Moon; the drink all but disappeared, and its cousin the Aviation lost its sky-blue hue.

All that changed last month when Haus Alpenz — best known as the importers of the cult-fave Zirbenz stone-pine liqueur — rolled out its 2007 line. In addition to another formerly-defunct ingredient, Batavia Arrack, Alpenz also brought out the first violet liqueur available in the US in recent memory: Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette.

Tasting all three violettes — the Hermes, the Rothman, and the Serres — recently with friends, we found the three brands to be about as different as violet-scented liqueurs could be. Colors ran the gamut from indigo through to deep purple. Sampled on their own, the Serres tasted driest, while the Hermes combined tooth-rattling sweetness with a shocking floral intensity. The Rothman struck a pleasant balance: Violet-hued without being garish, floral without perfumey notes.

Once mixed with other liquors in a cocktail, the brand differences mostly fade away, although the sweetness of the Hermes in particular (and the Rothman, to an extent) means you’ll need a steady hand to achieve the desired blue tint without oversweetening your cocktail. I’m still partial to the Serres, myself, but — especially when factoring in price and availability — the Rothman makes a more-than-acceptable alternative.

But back to the Blue Moon: Recipes vary, but they all start with gin and violette; some stop right there, but most add lemon juice. A few recipes replace the lemon with dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters for a Martini-esque concoction. Still others add an egg white… although that tweak really does make it a different drink, which used to be known as a Blue Devil. (Confusingly, that name’s been co-opted in modern times by a mixture of gin, lemon, Maraschino, and blue curacao.) All these overlapping ingredients are making my head spin. I think I need a drink…

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*

Blue Moon
2 oz dry gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz creme de violette (quantity varies by brand)
Shake ingredients with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. For an Old Blue Devil, add a tablespoon of egg white before shaking.

Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes



Comment by Anita

Erik over at Underhill Lounge sends word of even more head-spinning name-and-ingredient overlap:

>>…the Blue Devil in the Savoy Cocktail book is as follows:

Blue Devil Cocktail
1/2 Dry Gin
1/4 Lemon Juice or Lime Juice
1/4 Maraschino
1 Dash Blue Vegetable Extract << In the interest of brevity, I omitted that my egg-white variant of the same name comes from Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”. I believe that Embury calls for a 8:2:1 ratio in both his Blue Moon and Blue Devil, which I find a bit too subtle.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 9:39AM

Comment by Rick

Awesome pictures!

Posted on 08.31.07 at 9:42AM

Comment by Tartelette

Those colors! I am weird, I don’t really like violet except in drinks! Champagne and violet liqueur is delicious too.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 11:43AM

Comment by Chez Denise et Laudalino

I love the glasses you use with this cocktail recipe – where did you get them! As well, we love your blog ~ keep up the great job!!!!

Here’s to hot summer nights in San Francisco, finally!!! Perfect night for cocktails .. may have to try out some of your recipes this weekend!

Posted on 08.31.07 at 11:46AM

Comment by Chubbypanda

Ooooh… It’s like getting drunk off of history. Nice!

Posted on 08.31.07 at 12:20PM

Comment by mary

I used to love this cocktail, but have sworn off of it, you can imagine why. My husband still makes them for our friends, though.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 12:56PM

Comment by mary

oops, I posted too soon. I forgot to say, thanks for the history and also the picture is lovely, you got the colors just right.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 12:57PM

Comment by Aaron Harms

I’ve been putting together a home bar, and I think a violet liqueur would be very nice, especially as I favor gin for my main spirit.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 1:29PM

Comment by Anita

Rick: I’m flattered! :)

Tartlette: I love the simple combination of bubbly and liqueurs, too. And the violette makes such a pretty color.

Denise: I found the mini-stems (we call them our Nick & Nora glasses) at a second-hand store. They’re just the right size for pre-dinner cocktails. The shot glasses that hold the two violettes in the small pics are from The Gardener in the Ferry Building.

Panda: You funny!

Mary: I *can* imagine, indeed. The violette hides the gin’s wallop perhaps a bit too well. And thanks for the photo compliment.

Aaron: Violette drinks are pretty obscure, but then I’m a big fan of the oddball ingredients.

Posted on 08.31.07 at 2:29PM

Comment by barbara

That is such a pretty colour. I have never heard of the violet liqueur

Posted on 09.01.07 at 10:02PM

Comment by Dagny

As a gin enthusiast, I might have to give this one a try one day. What places would you recommend for finding violette?

Posted on 09.02.07 at 9:53AM

Comment by Anita

Barbara: neither had I until last year when I tried the Hermes. Its definitely obscure!

Dagny: I know that Blackwells (out on Geary and 21st) carries the Rothman; other than that, I haven’t seen it anywhere.

Posted on 09.02.07 at 10:23AM

Comment by Tea


Posted on 09.02.07 at 10:24AM

Comment by GG Mora

You know, reading your blog so often leaves me wanting a good stiff drink. And I mean that in the nicest way.

I’m just wondering if I can find some of these fancy liqueurs out here in the hinterlands.

Posted on 09.05.07 at 1:06PM

Comment by Eric

On the East Coast it’s easiest to phone and mail-order from LeNell’s in Brooklyn (also get her Red Hook Rye while at it).

Take note that the Yvette was actually never a Creme de Violette, but instead a floral-flavored liqueur with notes of vanilla and citrus. Some prefer the Violettes because the taste and aroma are from a natural floral infusion, others like the Yvette style for those other flavor notes.

Posted on 09.06.07 at 3:30PM

Comment by Anita

Tea: thank you!

GG: See Eric’s note, below. Also Blackwell’s in San Francisco if you’re closer to the West Coast.

Eric: Thanks for the clarification on the Yvette. This will teach me to write posts the night before I put them on the site — leaving me zero time for fact-checking. I was so excited to get the word out about the new violette that I let my research lapse. Fifty lashes with a wet julep strainer…. and I know Erik from Underhill Lounge has a couple of clarifications, too, when he gets a chance to comment.

Posted on 09.06.07 at 3:46PM

Comment by Kathy Ramsey

I’m wondering if Eric read the NYT article (8/11/07) about LeNell’s having to close next summer. She wants to relocate, but is very particular about where to do that.

Posted on 09.07.07 at 5:54AM

Comment by erik_flannestad

Oh, interesting.

So, Creme Yvette is closer to Parfait Amour than Creme de Violette? Or somewhere in between? Seems like the Hermes is in that style.

As far as I know, the original Aviation Cocktail recipe calls for Violette, not Creme Yvette.

This is the oldest recipe anyone has turned up, so far. It is from Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 book, “How to Mix Drinks”.

1/3 Lemon Juice
2/3 El Bart Gin
2 dashes Maraschino
2 dashes Creme de Violette
Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain and serve.

Posted on 09.07.07 at 9:54AM

Comment by Anita

Kathy: I dunno about Eric, but I read it :)
I second the recommendation the Red Hook Rye, though.

Erik: Thanks for the clarification. I think I should have said “Many moons ago…” rather than “Originally…” (It would have been wittier, too.) Ted Haigh’s writeup in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails references the Yvette, and I made the mistake of relying on that history rather than digging deeper on my own.

Posted on 09.07.07 at 11:25AM

Comment by Eric

Last I heard, LeNells will move nearby in Red Hook – not close. Anyway that’s months away. I’d be more concerned about her current available supply of Red Hook Rye!

Posted on 10.24.07 at 6:34PM

Pingback by The Aviation Cocktail : Drink Dogma

[...] So what does one do? It sounds as if the Aviation could be two different drinks entirely. The version without the Crème de Violette has been an accepted Aviation for years and years, but it seems like the original drink was indeed made with the flower liqueur. To add more confusion, there is also a related cocktail called the Blue Moon which leaves out the maraschino entirely, leaving the gin, lemon juice, and crème de violette (the original Blue Moon recipe called for crème yvette—a now-defunct liqueur containing violet flowers and possibly vanilla; crème de violette was often substituted). [...]

Posted on 05.06.08 at 2:12AM

Comment by Jessamyn

Beautiful! Ever since we got hold of some Violette I’ve been smitten by a very similar drink but with Lillet instead of lemon juice. I love the hint of violet with the gin and lemon flavors.

Posted on 12.31.09 at 11:07AM

Pingback by once in a blue moon « Culinaria Eugenius

[...] Married with Dinner, one of my favorite food blogs, revisits the history of the Blue Moon, a lovely vintage cocktail now blasphemed with sugary, cheap blue curaçao. [...]

Posted on 01.01.10 at 1:10PM

Comment by Linnet

Thank you so much for the recipe. I’ve loved floral liqueurs ever since St. Germain, and was dying to get my hands on Creme Yvette, but they don’t offer it in PA. Now that I have some Creme de Violette, I plan on making Blue Moons tonight. Cheers!

Posted on 05.04.10 at 8:13AM

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