Kind of Blue

by Naren Young

I’ve thought for a while now that our industry has become a little too insular and dare I say it, overly serious. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we’re more serious and passionate than ever about out craft is a wonderful thing. And we should continue on this merry path. But perhaps we just need a little change of direction. If you want to barrel age your own bitters made from sea kelp and fermented plums for your latest Manhattan, then great. If you own every Japanese bar spoon that’s ever been released, then bravo.

But many bartenders have become so brainwashed by their own success in such a competitive global environment that they turning away many of the customers they should be trying to attract, entertain and perhaps enlighten. And in the process some are forgetting the very foundations of what it actually means to be a bartender. Not a master mixologist, bottle jockey, spiritual advisor, drinksmith, cocktailian, bar chef, or whatever moniker you choose to put after your name. But a bartender. And that very foundation is customer service. If you can’t provide this very basic understanding of your job description, then you are very much in the wrong industry.

So I ask you, where has all the fun gone? I remember seeing a great seminar a couple of years back by my friends Jacob Briars and Angus Winchester called ‘Bartending Fun-Damentals.’ In it, they included a drink called the Corpse Reviver No. Blue, which has since been served in bars stretching from the Antipodes to the highest cocktail temples in New York and London.

In Jacob’s typically cheeky manner, this was a clever take on the classic Corpse Reviver No. 2 made famous by Harry Craddock in his Savoy Cocktail Book published in 1930. It was also that cocktail that became so ubiquitous during the cocktail renaissance of the last decade that it seemed to pop up on cocktail menus everywhere. Add a splash of blue Curacao (which essentially adds no flavor), however, and all of a sudden you have a drink that attracts a few curious questions and a few giggles, and surely that can’t be a bad thing, right?

Sure, blue drinks aren’t for everybody and the stereotype for you might forever be associated with a swim up bar, a blender, a plastic monkey and a neon straw. But blue is back baby! Love it or loathe it, if a bar like PDT in New York can have a blue drink on their menu (see recipe below) – replete with cocktail umbrella and all – then that’s about all the vindication I need. Australian bartender Jason Williams, when working at Melbourne’s Seamstress, would pimp your drink with a little blue Curacao for a measly 50 cents. Brilliant!

I understand that it’s going to take more than a few blue drinks here and there to put the fun back into our industry, but if every time I put a Blue Lady in front of someone and it makes them smile, then that’ll make me very happy. It will also make Jacob very happy too.

"You can see blue drinks as a reaction to the hyper-seriousness that sometimes plagues the cocktail revival. Though blue drinks are certainly retro too, you can see them as a counterpoint to the “Cult of the Classics,” where a drink from 1911 is automatically assumed to be better than a drink from 2011. I've never served a blue drink to a guest who hasn't laughed out loud. After all, the first rule of cocktails should be to bring a little joy into the world. In their own way, drinks like Blue Blazers and Tiki drinks are ridiculous and showy, and that's part of the fun. I see a blue cocktail as being part of this trend. There is an element of surprise in a blue cocktail that adds to the enjoyment. Cocktail lovers are now so conditioned to mock blue drinks as sweet, artificial and the mainstay of the pick-up joint. So to serve a blue cocktail that's balanced and refreshing is a cocktail trick that brings a smile to the face of whoever drinks it."

I remember fondly the Blue Lagoon – a simple mix of gin or vodka with Sprite and blue Curacao – was one of the first drinks I ever made when I first gained an interest in cocktails at age 16. Then there was the Blue Hawaii with white rum, vodka, blue Curacao, pineapple juice and something called ‘sour mix’ (it was created in 1957 after all), that also had its fifteen minutes. Let’s be frank, the only reason we use blue Curacao in any drink is for color (despite the fact that it is supposed to taste like the oranges that have for centuries been harvested on the Caribbean island of the same name). But whatever. That would be to miss the entire point in all its kitschy glory.

When people see, or even think of a blue drink, they automatically think that it must be sweet. And most of the time they would be right. But that would also be to generalize. Take the Disco Fizz for instance, a drink I created while working at Bobo in Manhattan’s West Village. It’s nothing genius; it’s nothing more than a classic Silver Vodka Fizz with a splash o’ the blue stuff. But it looks super pretty in its pastel tux. It was the last drink I ever served to our friend Gregor de Gruyther before he passed. He loved it. In fact I hope he’s having one right now.

Some Blue Drinks

Psycho Cobbler
1 oz. Fino sherry
1 oz. Amontillado sherry
½ oz. blanco tequila
½ oz. blue Curacao
3 chunks of lemon and orange
3 slivers of fresh ginger
1 tsp. vanilla sugar
Muddle the fruit and sugar
Shake very hard with cubed ice
Pour into a long glass and top with crushed ice
Garnish with a cocktail umbrella

Corpse Reviver No. Blue
1.5 oz. Plymouth gin
¾ oz. Lillet Blanc
½ oz. Combier triple sec
Dash of absinthe
Dash of blue Curacao
¾ oz. lemon juice
Shake and double strain into a frozen coupe
Created by Jacob Briars

Blue Lady
1.5 oz. Beefeater gin
½ oz. Combier triple sec
¼ oz. blue Curacao
¾ oz. lemon juice
Dash of simple syrup
1 egg white
Dry shake without ice
Add ice and shake very hard
Strain into a chilled coupe
Garnish with a lemon twist

1.5 oz. butter-infused Flor de Caña silver dry rum
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. Wray and Nephew overproof rum
½ oz. pineapple juice
¼ oz. Frangelico
¼ oz. senior blue Curaçao
¼ oz. cane syrup
¼ oz. heavy cream
¼ tbsp. Bittermens Elemakule Tiki bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with pebble ice
Garnish with a lemon wheel and an umbrella.
Created by John de Bary – PDT, New York City 

Disco Fizz
2 oz. vodka
½ oz. blue Curacao
¾ oz. lemon juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
Dry shake without ice
Add ice and shake very hard
Strain over ice into a long glass
Top with soda
Break a lemon twist over the top and discard.
Created by Naren Young – Bobo, New York City

Simon Leblon
1 oz. Leblon cachaca
1 oz. blue Curacao
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. Noilly Prat dry vermouth
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with an orange twist.
Created by Jacob Briars

Read more from Trends.