Something blue? The latest cocktail trend is aqua

Azure, lapis, sky, cyan – call it what you will, the cocktail mood of the moment is son. From Milan to London to the Lower East Side, everyone is turning away from drinks the color of swimming pools. “Customers crave the comfort and feel of a bygone era,” says Julie Reiner, New York cocktail doyen and star of the recent Netflix show Drink Masters. That means a nod to the 1980s and 90s – the heyday of blue drinks – when bartenders ran amok through newly expanded back bars like toddlers in technicolor sandboxes.

At Milady’s in SoHo, Reiner serves alcoholic jello shots — or “jigglers” — in a selection of flavors that include a twist on the Blue Hawaiian, made with white rum, pineapple juice, coconut water, blue curacao and edible glitter. “They’re fun, delicious, and an amazing dinner table conversation starter.”

Pow3r Juice at Unseen in Milan

Blue drinks are a godsend for Instagram, of course – a fact not forgotten about Milan bar Unseen, which rose to fame thanks to Pow3r Juice, an electric blue drink that went viral. “The recipe is always changing, but the look of the drink stays the same – so it’s more of a meme,” says founder Milo Ochipinti. “Originally the recipe was kombucha, tequila, fig and blue food coloring, now it’s raspberry vodka, verjus and blue curacao. People don’t really care what’s in it, they just come in and say, ‘I want that blue drink with the pink snail shell on it,’ pointing at their phone.”

Jello filmed at Milady's in Soho, New York

Jello filmed at Milady’s in Soho, New York

Zarzamora - Turquoise Margarita - at The Cabinet, New York

Zarzamora – Turquoise Margarita – at The Cabinet, New York

Shanghai 75 at central London bar Lucy Wong

Shanghai 75 in central London bar Lucy Wong © @onezoneapp

The East Village Cabinet is known for its Turquoise Margarita; Lucy Wong in London serves pale blue Shanghai 75. Thanks to a bit of mixology trickery, even the cardinal-red Negroni now gets a blue rinse now and then. The Aqua Aegean Negroni at The Clumsies in Athens is inspired by the aromas and colors of the Mediterranean; it’s made with clarified Campari, Curacao blue, fennel seeds and the Greek herb dictamos and garnished with caper leaves.

New York’s Dante also proves that blue drinks don’t have to be sticky: its Azzurro Negroni sees Luxardo Bitter Bianco (instead of Campari) stirred with a mix of white aperitifs, lemon bitters and Curacao blue, and served ‘top’ in a delectable coupe with a sprig of baby’s breath and a squirt of lemon oil. Some try to bypass the liqueurs by using something more beneficial like spirulina or the color changing butterfly flower. At the ambitious new Library By The Sea bar at the Kimpton Seafire Resort in the Cayman Islands, they achieve the desired tone with a bit of theatrics. The cocktail in question, Eyes of Ibad, is served in a hand-blown blue Oaxacan glass rimmed with glitter. It comes to the table on a pad of ultraviolet light that makes the quinine in the tonic mixer fluoresce like a bioluminescent jellyfish.

Eyes of Ibad cocktail served at The Library By The Sea, Grand Cayman

Eyes of Ibad cocktail served at The Library By The Sea, Grand Cayman © Tyler Zielinski

However, I am amazed at how many bartenders still seem to reach – with gusto – for synthetic blue liqueurs. If you want that true color hit, there still doesn’t seem to be a replacement for Brilliant Blue FCF E133. The world’s first blue curacao was marketed by Bols in 1912 (orange curacaos that are amber, red and green already exist). The Savoy Cocktail Bookpublished in 1930, also included several recipes that called for blue food coloring.

And paying homage to ’90s drinks is a new cocktail book, Saved by Bellini (Union Square & Co): the list of recipes, all created by bartender John deBari (an alumnus of New York’s Please Don’t Tell and Momofuku), runs the gamut of blue drinks. There’s Caribbean Blue (white rum, blue curacao, pineapple), which tips its cap to Enya’s hit; a red-white-blue punch of bourbon, blue curacao, lemon and strawberry ice cubes that evokes Hilfiger’s patriotic fashions; and indigo sour, which is the same color as Sonic the Hedgehog’s hair.

Blue drinks “unbutton the seriousness of craft cocktails and bring some fun and levity into the scene,” says de Barry. It’s time to dive right in.


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