Give Flowers This Valentine's Day — in a Crème de Violette Cocktail

Crème de violette makes a great Valentine's Day gift if you want to give flowers that won't die.
Crème de violette makes a great Valentine's Day gift if you want to give flowers that won't die. Mark Antonation
Flowers fade...unless they're preserved in alcohol. Crème de violette, an extremely rare spirit until French imports began hitting the U.S. about a decade ago, captures the essence of alpine violets in a delicate, floral liqueur often tinted a vivid blue or purple. Adventurous Colorado distillers are trying their hand at their own versions of crème de violette, so you can skip the bouquet of overpriced roses and instead score a bottle to shake up a cocktail for your lover on Valentine's Day.

Golden Moon Distillery, appropriately located at 412 Violet Street in Golden, uses whole violet flowers and buds, along with other botanicals, to produce a spirit close in color, a light reddish-purple, to the flowers themselves. The distillery goes easy on the sugar and bottles its crème de violette at 30 percent alcohol by volume, higher than similar imported products.

Since crème de violette was off American shelves for so long, many current drink recipes are derived from vintage cocktail books from the early part of the twentieth century and use a long list of ingredients that can rack up a hefty bill at the liquor store. The Aviation, for example, has experienced a resurgence at craft cocktail bars, but you'll need gin and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur (don't bother trying to substitute other cherry liqueurs). But for a simple violet sour, you should be able to use ingredients on hand to shake up a couple of tasty cocktails.

click to enlarge A violet sour made with crème de violette from Golden Moon (left) and Lee Spirits (right). - MARK ANTONATION
A violet sour made with crème de violette from Golden Moon (left) and Lee Spirits (right).
Mark Antonation
Here's Golden Moon's violet sour recipe:
2 ounces crème de violette
1 lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Shake everything together for fifteen seconds, then add a generous amount of ice cubes and shake for another fifteen seconds. Double-strain (to get those eggy bits out) into a stemmed cocktail glass and twist a slice of lemon peel over the top. The recipe works great with lime, too. To make your own simple syrup, just dissolve a cup of sugar into a cup of water in a pan on the stove; save the rest in your fridge for more cocktails later.

click to enlarge Aviation cocktails made with Lee Spirits crème de violette. - MARK ANTONATION
Aviation cocktails made with Lee Spirits crème de violette.
Mark Antonation
Since experimentation and variety are the hallmarks of Colorado's distillery scene, there's more than one option  for locally made crème de violette. Lee Spirits, at 110 East Boulder Street in Colorado Springs, makes a bold crème de violette with a bright-blue hue. The color doesn't come from flowers, according to the distillery, but is instead intended to replicate the original version of American violet liqueur. The flavor is stronger and sweeter than Golden Moon's, but it works equally well in the violet sour. If you like your cocktail more sour than sweet, scale back to ¾ ounce of simple syrup.

If the object of your affection isn't easily impressed, you might need to spring for the extra ingredients for an Aviation after all. Here's what Lee Spirits recommends:
1 ¼ ounces dry gin
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup (aren't you glad you now have some on hand?)
¼ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
½ ounce crème de violette

Shake everything together on ice, then strain into a coupe or other stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist. You can use Golden Moon's violet liqueur to make a slightly more subtle Aviation, and once you've mastered the formula, you can tweak the ingredients to dial in something special for someone you love.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation