The Kentucky Flyer was created by bartender Sierra Zimei in 2011, when she was working at the Four Seasons in San Francisco. It’s a variation on the classic Aviation cocktail, which dates back to the early 20th century and combines gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and fresh lemon juice.
Named for the state’s reputation as a whiskey powerhouse, the Kentucky Flyer features rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice. It skips the crème de violette, a practice that was also common among Aviation-makers for decades, considering that this violet-hued liqueur disappeared from the market in the 1960s and remained unavailable (in the United States, at least) until 2007.
While many cocktails take years or even decades to get their due, Zimei’s Kentucky Flyer was an instant hit. Locals gravitated to the well-balanced drink, and bar legend and author Gary Regan included it on his list of the 101 Best New Cocktails of 2011, helping to spread the word among bartenders and enthusiasts.
Make a Kentucky Flyer for yourself, and you will quickly see the appeal. The rye and lemon combination is strong and tart, with its Whiskey Sour vibes accented by the maraschino liqueur’s bittersweet cherry notes. The drink is easy to make and, while based around the Aviation, it is significantly different in flavor. It’s a fine choice whether or not you like the floral classic that inspired it.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 3/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- Garnish: 2 brandied cherries
- Garnish: mint sprig
Add the rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice to a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
Garnish with 2 brandied cherries and a mint sprig speared on a pick.