In the cocktail-era-that-shall-not-be-named (cough—the ‘90s—cough), brightly colored, artificial ingredients plagued the bar scene. Fruit-tinis drowned in neon green apple liqueur, gloopy red grenadine bastardized what was once a great product, and blue curaçao colored faux-tropical drinks designed for people who hated their jobs but loved yelling, “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” But in blue curaçao’s defense, when used correctly, it’s a perfectly fine orange liqueur. It just earned a bad reputation from bartenders who mixed it with ultra-sugary artificial ingredients. We think it’s about time to redeem the bright blue liqueur.
We Challenged Bartenders to Make a Blue Drink That Actually Tastes Good
So we challenged four bartenders from around the country to create a delicious blue cocktail using blue curaçao. It couldn’t be a drink that just threw the liqueur in as an afterthought, but one that embraced its vibrant color and sweet citrusy flavor. While we were a little concerned that bartenders would balk at using the maligned liqueur as the base for a cocktail, our intrepid entrants—Johnny Livanos of New York’s Greek restaurant Ousia, Melissa Guadalupe of Chicago’s globally-inspired cocktail lounge Arbella, Paul Wainright of Austin’s farm-to-table restaurant Parkside, and Brynn Smith of Los Angeles’ Southern Italian restaurant Sotto—took the challenge head on. They were excited to create a drink that was, at its core, all about having fun.
“Bartenders are moving away from taking ourselves too seriously,” says Livanos. “It’s OK to be playful, it’s OK to have fun with a drink, it’s OK to make a blue drink just for the hell of it. As long as the drink is balanced and tastes good, there’s no need to stick your nose up at something for being cheesy.”
“I think blue drinks are just misunderstood,” says Wainright. “It’s like a Judd Apatow flick. I have ordered them and it's always a bit of a gamble, but do I think the reputation is deserved? Reputations are overrated.”
This Aegean-inspired tiki-style drink is just what Livanos would want to drink by the pool in Santorini. Livanos offsets the visual shock of curaçao’s unnatural blue color by garnishing the cocktail with naturally vibrant ingredients like fresh green mint, an orange wedge and red Peychaud’s bitters. It might look like a snow cone, but the cocktail is far more balanced than its appearance lets on. “Pisco is a super aromatic spirit that smells like flowers and fresh fruit, while high-proof Jamaican rum balances out some of the sweeter ingredients,” says Livanos. The cocktail also gets an herbaceous boost from mastiha, a Greek liqueur made from the sap of its namesake tree, which only grows on the island of Chios. “It’s a very terroir-driven product, and it brings these piney, herbal, vegetal flavors to the drink, as well as a waxy texture and a natural sweetness.” You’ve never had a blue cocktail like this before.
When making this vibrantly blue-hued cocktail, Guadalupe looked to her lively childhood for inspiration. “Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, we always had plantains, which are more mild and vegetal than a banana,” Guadalupe says. “Most people, when they order a cocktail, the first thing they say is ‘not sweet.’ Platano purée influences the flavor and texture of the drink without over-sweetening it.” This cocktail, which tempers the sweetness of blue curaçao with platano purée, dark rum, spiced syrup and muddled pineapple, hits all of the right notes—no sweet tooth required.
“I’ve been in a long term relationship with the Sidecar,” says Wainright. For his variation on the classic cocktail made with orange liqueur, fresh lemon juice and brandy, Wainright switched out the orange liqueur for blue curaçao, and swapped the traditional Cognac for pisco. “Since blue curaçao insinuates tropicalia, I felt a South American brandy would be apropos,” Wainright says. The blue color and swirled bitters reminded Wainright of the lyric “planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do” from the David Bowie song “Space Oddity,” inspiring the cocktail’s name. “I’ve found it a useful mantra in certain situations,” he says. “We have less control than we’d like to admit, and it’s helpful to let go of what we can’t influence and focus on the things we can.” One thing you can definitely control is whether or not you make this cocktail; we encourage you to do so.
Don’t be alarmed, this blue Margarita is nothing like the jumbo-sized cocktail you’ll find at your local Mexican chain restaurant—it’s way classier. “I picture enjoying the Blu Margarita in a natural Italian grotto on the island of Capri,” says Smith. She mellows out the sweetness of the curaçao by adding Amaro Melliti for its notes of bitter orange, lavender and saffron. “To me, amaro is hands-down the best modifier in a cocktail,” she says. “You get such depth of flavor and a slight bitterness, and that for me is a win in any drink.” The result is floral and tart, and, thanks to Giffard’s blue curaçao, a balanced blue drink that Smith can get behind. “I’m thrilled that I have a product I can finally use and drink because, as a fancy bar wench, I don’t have to shy away from blue drinks anymore.”