Something blue? The latest cocktail trend is aqua
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Azure, lapis, cerulean, cyan – call it what you like, the cocktail’s current mood is blue. From Milan to London to the Lower East Side, everyone’s knocking back drinks the colour of swimming pools. “Customers are craving comfort and feelings from eras past,” says Julie Reiner, NYC cocktail doyenne and star of the recent Netflix show Drink Masters. That means channelling the 1980s and ’90s – the heyday of blue drinks – when bartenders rampaged through newly expanded backbars like toddlers in technicolour sandpits.
At Milady’s in SoHo, Reiner serves alcoholic jello shots – or “jigglers” – in a choice of flavours that includes a twist on a Blue Hawaiian made with white rum, pineapple juice, coconut water, blue curaçao and edible glitter. “They’re fun, delicious and an incredible conversation starter for the table.”
Blue drinks are a gift for Instagram, of course – a fact not lost on the Milanese bar Unseen, which rose to fame off the back of Pow3r Juice, an electric-blue drink that went viral. “The recipe is always changing, but the appearance of the drink stays the same – in that way it’s more like a meme,” says founder Milo Occhipinti. “The recipe was originally kombucha, tequila, fig and blue food colouring, now it’s raspberry vodka, verjus and blue curaçao. People don’t really care what’s in it though, they just come in saying, ‘I want that blue drink with the pink snail shell on it’, pointing at their phone.”
Jello shots at Milady’s in SoHo, New York
The Zarzamora – a turquoise Margarita – at The Cabinet, in New York
The Cabinet in the East Village is known for its turquoise Margarita; Lucy Wong in London serves a pale-blue Shanghai 75. Thanks to a bit of mixological trickery even the cardinal-red Negroni now gets a blue rinse from time to time. The aqua Aegean Negroni at The Clumsies in Athens is inspired by the flavours and colours of the Mediterranean Sea; it’s made with clarified Campari, blue curaçao, fennel seeds and the Greek herb diktamos, and garnished with caper leaves.
Dante in New York also proves that blue drinks needn’t be tacky: its Azzurro Negroni sees Luxardo Bitter Bianco (instead of Campari) stirred down with a blend of white aperitifs, lemon bitters and blue curaçao, and served “up” in a dainty coupe with a sprig of baby’s breath and lemon oil spritz. Some try to swerve the liqueurs by using something more wholesome such as spirulina or the colour‑changing butterfly pea flower. At the ambitious new Library By The Sea bar, in the Cayman Islands’ Kimpton Seafire Resort, they achieve the desired hue with a bit of theatre. The cocktail in question, Eyes of Ibad, is served in a handblown Oaxacan blue glass edged with glitter. It comes to the table on a UV-light coaster that makes the quinine in the tonic mixer fluoresce like bioluminescent jellyfish.
I’m struck, though, by how many bartenders still seem to be reaching – with relish – for the synthetic blue liqueurs. If you want that true hit of colour, it seems there’s still no substitute for Brilliant Blue FCF E133. The world’s first blue curaçao was launched by Bols in 1912 (there were already orange curaçaos in existence that were amber, red and green). The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, also features several recipes that call for blue food colouring.
And paying homage to the drinks of the ’90s is a new cocktail book, Saved by the Bellini (Union Square & Co): the inventory of recipes, all created by bartender John deBary (an alumn of New York speakeasy Please Don’t Tell and Momofuku), runs the spectrum of blue drinks. There’s a Caribbean Blue (white rum, blue curacao, pineapple) that tips its cap to a hit by Enya; a red-white-and-blue punch of bourbon, blue curaçao, lemon and strawberry ice cubes that recalls Hilfiger’s patriotic fashion trends; and an indigo sour that’s the same colourway as Sonic the Hedgehog’s hair.
Blue drinks “unbutton the seriousness of craft cocktails and inject a bit of fun and frivolity into the scene”, says deBary. Time to dive right in.