Common cocktail knowledge maintains that every great cocktail equals more than the sum of its parts. But the blue drink, whether it’s composed of three ingredients or 12, is often reduced to just one element: blue. Yet the world of blue drinks is vast and varied, running the gamut from dry and aperitivo-friendly to fruit-forward and tropical.
The Blue Hawaii, perhaps the best-known drink in the canon of blue classics, falls into this latter category. Created at the Hawaiian Village Hotel by Harry Yee in 1957, the vodka-based drink gets a 21st-century reboot thanks to tiki expert Garret Richard. His version swaps the neutral spirit for coconut-washed gin, a move that nods to the rival Blue Hawaiian, a cobalt-tinted spin on the Piña Colada. Though lesser-known, the disco-era Best Year is cut from the same cloth. Originally a vodka mixture, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry cuts his updated version with a small measure of aquavit for added dimension alongside fresh pineapple juice, lime cordial, the spiced vanilla notes of Licor 43 and, naturally, blue Curaçao.
Blue Curaçao also shines in pre-dinner templates. In her take on the traditional shochu highball—a popular call drink at Japan’s izakayas—Kelly Brophy adds the tinted liqueur as an eye-catching accent to the mixture of gin, shochu, Calpico, lemon and soda water. It likewise stars in the ’80s-born Angelo Azzurro, Italy’s answer to the Cosmo, which bartender Nick Palmeri refines with the subtle addition of Luxardo Bitter Bianco to temper the gin drink’s inherent sweetness.
Sometimes, blue Curaçao is added to the mix just because it’s, well, blue. Yet the results are equally interesting. In Pamela Wiznitzer’s Southern Border, the cerulean liqueur adds a kitschy tone to her American ode to the Pisco Sour. Other times, it’s the blue that holds the drink together. Take, for instance, John deBary’s downtown New York modern classic The Shark. Hoping to channel the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving meal into liquid form—warm nuttiness layered with pineapple and citrus—deBary mixed butter-infused rum, pineapple and lime juice, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur and a few dashes of tiki bitters. The finishing touch is a measure of blue Curaçao, which transforms the drink from a dull brown to a vibrant azure. As Jim Meehan, deBary’s mentor at the time, recalled of the final drink, “It’s better because it’s blue.”