Cocktails for Weary Holiday Travelers

Odds are, we’ll need a drink as soon as we land.

Welcome to Buy You a Drink, where GOOD's resident mixologist offers a free libation to one thirsty newsmaker each week. This time: the nation's poor, airborne souls.

Once upon a time, Americans fortunate enough to afford air travel flew like members of an exclusive, airborne country club. Even coach passengers on routine domestic flights enjoyed luxuries like legroom, in-flight movies, and delicious cocktails served by friendly customer service professionals. In 1971, D.B. Cooper managed to enjoy a bourbon and soda, a bourbon and water, and a cigarette during a 30-minute flight from Portland to Seattle. And he was carrying a bomb! Think how well Northwest Orient must have treated non-hijackers.

Today, Americans eager to experience a soupçon of luxury during domestic air travel have several options, all of them reruns: Mad Men, Swingtown, or Pan Am. I wouldn’t recommend jet-setting around the United States in coach in real life, where the experience in 2011 is more like flying an Aeroflot Yakovlev from Moscow to Murmansk in 1979.

Alas, it’s the holiday season, and many of us have been devoted enough to our families that we would fly all the way to Murmansk if it meant raising a glass of nog with them. Air travel is speedy—an important feature for those of us who only manage to take 12 out of our 14 vacation days every year. So even though we’d prefer to travel some other way—any other way—we have chosen to be gouged for baggage fees, groped by the TSA, and herded like cattle into a tiny pen with heavily restricted access to basic necessities like food and bathroom breaks, all the while risking deep-vein thrombosis and exposure to whichever form of the flu is getting passed around the air ducts this year. Odds are, we’ll need a drink as soon as we land.

The Call: Half Airborne, Half Grounded.

Maybe you’re one of the fortunate, and you survived the cattle-car treatment to arrive at your destination intact and non-traumatized. Since your travel experience did not conjure visions of Eastern European totalitarianism, you might enjoy a sky-blue callback to the halcyon days when airlines actually inspired people to create things like cocktails.

Aviation (Classic)

1 ½ oz. gin
½ - ¾ oz. lemon juice
¼ - ½ oz. maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is sweeter but more available; Marasca is excellent) ¼ – ½ oz. crème de violette

Shake with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.


For many years, crème de violette was tragically unavailable in the U.S., which meant the only Aviations flying around had just three ingredients, and lacked their signature color. An Aviation with gin, lemon, and maraschino is a perfectly acceptable drink; one with crème de violette is sublime.

I like to pour myself one early in an evening still suffused with promise and contemplate the glory days of Pan Am and the positivist swagger of Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe in The Aviator.

Of course, Mr. Baldwin is most famous at this moment for valuing his Words with Friends game over the directives of an American Airlines crew. Maybe you feel more sympathetic with that Alec Baldwin this holiday season.

After five hours on U.S. Airways that could have been chronicled by Solzhenitsyn, I’m right there with you. You and I will need something less delicate than a classic Aviation:

Shot of Malort

1 ½ oz. Jeppson’s Malort

Pour into receptacle. Consume. Retch. Make a horrible face. Curse your poor fortune, God.


Jeppson’s Malort is made from wormwood, grain alcohol, and not much else. It might best be described as Liqueur de Moist Sock. People drink it in Chicago, mostly as a dare. The Malort bottle itself is festooned with an audacious glove to the drinker’s face: “Are You Man Enough for Our Two-Fisted Liquor?”

After five hours on US Airways, you better believe I’m man enough. For the low, low price of $1,500, my wife and I were treated to the standard process of wait, grope, wait-some-more before we were introduced to a flight crew so severe you’d think that US Air had added jackboots to the uniform. Here were the lowlights:

Parent: “We waited 30 minutes to take off, and now my daughter needs to use the restroom.”

U.S. Air Enforcer #1: “She must sit down. She is [turns on microphone] IN VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW.”

Me: “This is the first flight of the day. Why are you out of all the food items, and most of the sodas?”


My Wife: “This fruit, for which I paid $8, is moldy.”

Enforcer #3: “Oh, we’ve got a WHINER over here!”


I do hope that your holiday travels have been more Aviation-worthy than Malort-inducing. As you can see, I’m having a hard time seeing my travel mug as half full—especially since I board another U.S. Air flight today. Fortunately, I’m headed to Chicago, where the Malort is in plentiful supply. If anyone from that first flight crew finds themselves in Chicago, too, I’ll happily buy them a shot of it. It’s the closest thing to Hemlock I can think of.

Photo via YouTube

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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