Why Was the Aviation Google Zeitgeist’s #1 Cocktail in 2013?

How, after never having placed in the top 10 before, did the Aviation—a classic, but obscure purple-hued gin drink—edge out all of the competition?

aviation cocktail pouring

Since 2004, Google Zeitgeist has included the category “Cocktails” in its annual list of trends (along with “Dating Services” and “Famous Internet Animals”). In 2004, the year the last season of Sex in the City aired, the Cosmo still reigned supreme in America. But it has been in decline ever since Carrie ditched Petrovsky in Paris.

You heard it here: Sex and the City killed the Cosmo.

On the other hand, though it hasn’t hit the list yet, the heady, bittersweet Negroni has been slowly making its way up the ranks since 2011, while the Mint Julep, the Manhattan and the Martini have been playing musical chairs within the top five for years.

These trends will not come as a surprise to most. But in Google’s recently-released data for 2013, the Aviation—a polarizing gin drink mixed with lemon and maraschino liqueur rendered purple with an obscure, violet-flavored French liqueur called crème de violette—made it to the top spot on the cocktail list. How, after never having placed in the top 10 before, did this drink edge out all of the competition?

We called Google to talk search results.

A wonderfully helpful tech nerd explained how the search behemoth captured the data. In 2012, Google presented the cocktail category in terms of search volume, meaning the top ten results shown were the most-Googled cocktails of the year. (Side note: The top dating service was Plenty of Fish and Grumpy Cat did not come on the scene until September of 2012, so the data is scarce on “Famous Internet Animals” for that year.) But in 2013, Google presented the cocktail round-up as a trending category, meaning it documented the pulse of what people were searching for, and curious about, at any given moment.

As we all know, search results do not always correspond with trend results; just because millions of people search for a Bloody Mary or Tom Collins recipe over the course of a year does not mean these recipes are giving us any insight into any notable sort of cultural momentum.

Which brings us back to the question at hand: How did the Aviation end up in Google’s number one trend spot? After a bit of toggling and filtering (when in Zeitgeist, scroll down to the Cocktail category and click “Cocktails,” then click “Explore” next to Aviation), it was possible to discern that the term “aviation” (as related to cocktails) was trending in late September of 2013. And much of the searching was concentrated in Washington and California.

So, we called upon our man in Washington, Andrew Bohrer, bartender and spirits expert at Vinium Wine Importing to offer some clues about what might be happening in his state. He explained that Giffard Crème de Violette became available locally in 2013. He also mentioned that California-based Tempus Fugit spirits recently added a crème de violette to its portfolio, while the Oregon-based gin brand, Aviation, sits in the middle of Northwest cocktail country. In addition, Bacardi recently hired a full-time Seattle-based brand ambassador for St. Germain, the company who owns Crème Yvette, another violet-flavored liqueur.

This is all to say that the market was certainly more exposed to the idea of the Aviation cocktail than in years before.

Data can be analyzed any which way, but it appears the Aviation experienced the greatest change of any cocktail logged in Google’s search results, including the others on the top-10 list, like the Blue Hawaii (don’t ask), Ramos Gin Fizz, Painkiller and Vesper.

Obscure cocktail terms do not experience such great surges in popularity as say, Miley Cyrus or Nelson Mandela. However, it can be deduced, that marketing, news and “twerking” will affect the respective Google terms. Bohrer’s guess is that the aforementioned factors (sans “twerking”) combined with “tech-savvy cocktail nerd culture” can explain some of the interest that gave the Aviation a push toward number one.

Why the Blue Hawaii or the Ramos Gin Fizz made it to 2013’s top ten is inconclusive. Upon exploring the drinks’ data further, Google’s search tool professes, “Not enough search volume to show graphs,” which seems counterintuitive for a trend list based upon numerical data. Our Google tech nerd offered the explanation of a bug on the external server side.

So which cocktails will end up on 2014’s Zeitgeist list? We’re casting our vote for the Negroni, whose rising popularity is indicative of, Bohrer says, “the growth of the American palate.” He also noted the Moscow Mule as a possible contender. (It came in at number six in 2013 after a Wall Street Journal article was published about a rise in the theft of iconic copper mule cups from bars and restaurants across the country.)

Arriving in a frosty copper mug—the vodka, lime and ginger beer-laced Moscow Mule is a cocktail for non-cocktail loving people. Its shiny cup is one primary cause for its ascent in popularity: “If a customer orders a Moscow Mule and you serve the drink in a Collins glass, they look at you like you just told them Santa Claus isn’t coming this year,” says Bohrer. “I’ve had people send them right back.”

So, hide your copper cups, 2014 just may be the year of the mule.

Thanks to a dedicated reader it was brought to our attention that the Aviation cocktail was mentioned on Blacklist (Season 1, Episode 2), a television show on NBC. This provides further explanation as to the timing of the higher than usual Google spike, but does not, however, explain the dominant concentration of Washington and California-based searches throughout the year.

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Leslie Pariseau is the Deputy Editor of PUNCH. She has written about food, drinks and people for GQ, Esquire and Saveur among others. She was included in Forbes' 2014 "30 Under 30" List. In her former life, Leslie worked for Momofuku Ssäm Bar, reported at the United Nations and dropped out of grad school to become a professional drinker. She has a degree in art history from University of Michigan, and lives (immoderately) in Brooklyn, New York.

  • Rick Adair

    Leslie, you need look no further than the Sept. 30 episode of “The Blacklist” for the reason the Aviation cocktail spiked during the week of Sept. 29-Oct. 5. In that episode, “The Freelancer,” arch villain Raymond “Red” Reddington orders FBI agent Elizabeth Keen an Aviation as an alternative to the glass of Chardonnay she was drinking.
    My brother in west Nebraska was among those who searched for the recipe after seeing the episode, and was curious enough to pick up a bottle of Crème de Violette (sorry, Andrew, it was Rothman & Winter’s) next time he was in Denver to mix one on his own.

    All of which leads me to believe of neither you nor Andrew count this show among your guilty pleasures.

    • http://punchdrink.com Leslie Pariseau

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks for the note. Definitely an interesting fact to take into consideration, and one that undoubtedly contributed to the funny little spike in Aviation interest. We had another reader note the same, and we’ll certainly make the addendum. What’s so interesting about the breakdown, upon further inspection, is that the geographic concentration of the searching is still based on the West Coast. Unsurprisingly, the Mint Julep’s geographic search concentration is based in the South while the Martini’s audience is highly East Coast. (Check out google.com/trends for all sorts of interesting trend information.) It’s also totally bizarre that such a quick spike would upend the entirety of the list in favor of the Aviation. Thank you, Google for breaking down the world in ways we would never have considered before.

  • lesliepariseau

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the note. Definitely an interesting fact to take into consideration, and one that undoubtedly contributed to the funny little spike in Aviation interest. We had another reader note the same, so we made the addendum. What’s so interesting about the breakdown, upon further inspection, is that the geographic concentration of the searching is still based on the West Coast over time. Unsurprisingly, the Mint Julep’s geographic search concentration is based in the South (especially Kentucky) while the Martini’s audience is highly East Coast. (Check out google.com/trends for all sorts of interesting trend information.) It’s also totally bizarre that such a quick spike would upend the entirety of the list in favor of the Aviation. Thank you, Google for breaking down the world in ways we would never have guessed.

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