When it comes to adding ingredients to cocktails to bolster their flavor profile, it usually comes down to something like adding bitters or, in recent times, saline solution or salt. They have their merits, but one ingredient that some bartenders have started to use may come as a surprise: vodka. This neutral spirit can add weight and improve the mouthfeel of a drink without overly altering its flavors. “Use vodka to boost the flavors in cocktails where you have already perfected them,” says Andra Johnson, a Washington, D.C. bartender. “Look at it as more of a catalyst of flavor, not an addition of flavor.” Her drink, the Night Flights, uses vodka to enhance the botanicals of gin, bitters and two liqueurs.
Johnson, who co-founded the DMV Black Restaurant Week, created the Night Flights as a love child of James Bond’s famed Vesper cocktail and the classic but divisive Aviation. The Vesper already exists as an exemplar of the technique, adding a touch of vodka to a Martini base to enhance its viscosity. However, rather than the usual aperitif Lillet (or Cocchi Americano), Johnson uses Salers gentian aperitif, which brings a touch of spice and rich botanicals to the mix.
While the Night Flights’ base is gin (Johnson uses Opihr, a peppery gin with notes of coriander), vodka gives a textural richness that offsets the astringent and lean gin elements. “By using a grain spirit that has more viscosity, it coats the palate, leaving behind a lingering finish instead of a quick, dry one,” she says. Johnson goes with Civic Vodka from Republic Restoratives, a woman-owned distillery in Washington D.C. This corn-based vodka can be hard to find if you don’t live in the US capital, so feel free to use another vodka as long as it’s smooth and silky.
For the Aviation elements, the drink calls for creme de violette; besides the floral aromatics and gentle sweetness, the liqueur also gives the drink a striking violet hue. But rather than adding lemon juice, as with a traditional Aviation, Johnson adds two dashes of lemon bitters, keeping it as a silky stirred concoction rather than a shaken one.
- 1 1/2 ounces Opihr gin
- 1 ounce Republic Restoratives Civic vodka
- 1/2 ounce Salers gentian aperitif
- 1/2 ounce creme de violette
- 2 dashes lemon bitters
- Garnish: brandied cherry
- Garnish: lemon peel
Add the gin, vodka, Salers Gentian aperitif, creme de violette and lemon bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a skewered brandied cherry and half-moon lemon peel.