How to make a perfect Air Mail cocktail at home — all you need are four ingredients

Ask the Oracle Pour: What should I drink today? All signs point to the Air Mail, a drink to remind us to connect

By Erin Keane
Published May 15, 2021 4:30PM (EDT)
Oracle Pour: Air Mail Cocktail (Illustration by Ilana Lidagoster)
Oracle Pour: Air Mail Cocktail (Illustration by Ilana Lidagoster)

"The Oracle Pour" is Salon Food's spirits column that helps you decide what to drink tonight.

Few designs catapult me right back into my feelings like seeing the Par Avion / Via Air Mail wings printed on an envelope edged in maroon and navy diagonal lines that suggest swift movement across vast distances. That incomparable feeling, the relief of connection after separation, is hard to imitate precisely with today's digital tools and unlimited long-distance phone calls, though immediacy can make up for a relative lack of drama. Any way you receive the message, knowing that someone is thinking about you, and has taken the time and made the effort to reach out and say so, feels good, especially if you've been somewhat isolated for any reason. 

That relief of connection is also partly what we seek when we sit down together for a long, in-depth conversation over drinks. Distance — however we measure it — has been conquered, at least for the moment. Drinks are just the vehicle to pull each other close, without the distraction of a meal or an activity, and really listen to the answer to "how are you doing?" 

Has it been a while since you felt that connection? What can you do today to make that feeling happen for you and someone you miss? Consider inviting a friend or two over for a round of Air Mails, or mix yourself one and text or call a friend you haven't heard from in a while. 

The Air Mail follows the same basic formula as a French 75 — base spirit plus citrus and a sweetener, topped with champagne — blended into a harmonious crowd-pleaser with a rich sweetness, thanks to the honey syrup cut with the brightness of lime juice. 

According to James Meehan's "Meehan's Bartender's Manual," this drink — popular in the 1940s — was reintroduced to the canon by historian David Wondrich in his first cocktails book in 2002, sourced from a 1930s recipe pamphlet produced by Bacardí. So, I reach for one of their aged rums when mixing an Air Mail. I like Bacardí Reserva Ocho in this one (and, truth be told, in most classic cocktails), and their Añejo Cuatro works well, too. In any case, you want a rum with some complexity whose flavors will be enhanced — not overshadowed — by the honey and the champagne. 

Because the Air Mail is made with honey syrup, you'll want to adjust for sugar content on the bubbly end, depending on your taste. If you prefer cocktails on the less-sweet side, go for a champagne marked Brut, or Extra Brut or even Brut Nature if you have even less of a sweet tooth. ("Extra Dry" and "Dry" are sweeter than the Brut levels — the labels are tricky like that.) Prosecco is a handy sparkling to keep stocked at home because of its ability to lift a cocktail without interfering too much with its other flavors, and it can certainly sub in here. But I believe the bready flavors a champagne brings to the cocktail help the rum and honey really sing. 

On glassware: I have been served Air Mails in champagne flutes and cocktail coupes, too, but I agree with Difford's Guide, which describes it as a "short drink served long" and suggest the classic serving: in a highball, Collins or fizz glass — anything tall and thin with a flat bottom — with ice, so the stem of a flute, which otherwise helps protect chilled champagne from being warmed by your hands, isn't entirely necessary. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. aged or gold rum
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. honey syrup
  • Brut champagne
  • Orange twist
  • Ice for shaking and serving

Gear:

You don't need any specialty equipment to mix a simple cocktail. Improvise with what you have; take a hammer to a baggie of ice if you want. But here's what I keep at hand:

Instructions:

To make the honey syrup: Add 1/2 cup boiling water to 1/2 cup of honey, shake until dissolved, cool. 

To make the cocktail: Fill a shaker with ice. Add rum, lime juice (fresh squeezed is best) and honey syrup. Shake and strain into a Collins, fizz or other tall, thin glass filled with ice, then top with champagne. Dress it up with a wee paper airplane or postage stamp on a cocktail pick for garnish, or a twist of orange.

Variations:

If you like the Air Mail and you're a gin fan, try the French 75 instead. (Here's the Oracle Pour's read on that drink.) I like to use Mike's Hot Honey when making a honey syrup for an extra kick of spice in cocktails. There are other brands of flavored honeys you can experiment with, too.  

More Oracle Pour:

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Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Editor in Chief.

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Air Mail Cocktails Food Oracle Pour Recipe Rum