The Happiest Hours: A Cocktail for the Dowager Countess

Violet at Dinner

In my humble opinion, Masterpiece Theatre and booze go hand in hand. So it was with great pleasure that we welcomed the art of the cocktail party to Downton Abbey during the season three premiere.

Let’s set the stage: it’s 1920, and the cocktail craze has finally hit British society. Sure, cocktails had been around for decades at this point, but as any Downton Abbey fanatic knows, things move pretty slowly with the landed gentry.  Across the pond, the Volstead Act had just gone into effect, marking the start of Prohibition in the United States. Weeks later, in Paris, a clever bartender at Harry’s Bar in Paris created the Scofflaw cocktail, poking fun at the term and the new American law.

Violet and lady Mary 2

Things are changing at Downton Abbey – which we can see firsthand by the flapper fashions donned by Lady Mary and her sisters – and so it makes sense that there would be changes in their drinking and entertaining habits too (though I don’t think the whole “indoor picnic” idea will become a regular fixture in the Crawley household). At this pre-dinner social hour, it is (as usual) the Dowager Countess (a.k.a Violet Grantham a.k.a Violet Crawley a.k.a the wonderful Dame Maggie Smith) who delivers the best line of the night. When offered one of those new-fangled cocktails, she responds, in her very best elitist sneer:  “No no, I don’t think so. They look too exciting for so early in the evening.”

While we aren’t sure exactly what they served at the Great House that evening, it looked like there were a few different options and that they were using delicate coupe glasses. It’s safe to assume that gin was involved. With that in mind, and in honor of one of the best characters ever created (Violet, of course), this week we’re featuring a recipe for an Aviation Fizz, which includes a splash of Crème de Violette. We think even the Dowager Countess would  (begrudgingly) approve.

Violet Crawley

Aviation Fizz

Adapted from Stylist UK (click on link for more 1920s British cocktails)

1 ¼ ounces Bombay Sapphire
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino (dry cherry liquer)
2 dashes of Crème de Violette
1 ½ ounces champagne (or sparkling wine)
quality cubed ice

Directions: Place the first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker with cubed ice, shake really well for 20 seconds then fine strain into a clean chilled small coupe glass. Serve then top with a good splash of Champagne.

If you are looking for more Downton Abbey cocktail inspiration, the Kitchn, one of our favorite food sites, has been busy creating cocktails for each character since last season. We especially like those named for the three Crawley daughters: Lady Sybil, Lady Edith, and Lady Mary.

If you’re interested in learning more about what was going on here in Boston during the 1920s, pick up a copy of Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits, by Stephanie Schorow. To help you explore the Hub’s best bars (both historic and contemporary) download our free smartphone app. Cheers!

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