The creeping re-proliferation of blue drinks across the global cocktail scene is a bit of a puzzler when first encountered. At first glance it seems to run in direct contrast to the bartender community's mandate to elevate and transform cocktails to something special and distinctly artisanal, not merely a sorority-ready, overly sweet candy-colored, Blue Curacao-enhanced confection. And in some senses this movement is contrary, but the micro-trend's absurdist underpinnings are predicated on restoring a bit of fun to what can get be a ponderous and serious--even grim--scene from time to time.
Last Saturday I stopped in to visit Jacob Briars of LeBlon Cachaças while he played Robin to Alex Kammerling's Batman during Alex's startender shift at Jub Jub, the tucked-away private room at Shoreditch's Callooh Callay, When Jacob placed the Duran Duran inspired--and quite, quite blue--Simon Le Blon (above) in front of me, I thought it was time to get this hyper-articulate man I've now seen pouring blue drinks on 3 continents to share his thoughts on the Blue Wave, and to reveal the depths of his involvement. In the second part of the post, Briar's own manifesto of sorts.
Oh, and this blue drink was quite nice, actually. The Noilly Pratt and the Cachaça seemed to bring tame the Curacao--even redeem it.
1 oz Leblon Cachaça
1 oz Blue Curacao
1 oz Lime juice
1/2 oz Noilly Prat
Shake, strain into your most elegant Cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange zest.
Alex Kammerling and Jacob Briar hamming it up for the camera at Jub Jub.
From Mr Briars: In regards to the thinking behind blue drinks, I am not alone in pushing the blue wagon, but possibly have done it more publicly than anyone else.
Basically the roots of it go back as far as Facebook. That far, I hear you say? Yes indeed, the misty dawn of Web 2.0. When FB first kicked off, for some reason silly groups were being invented all the time. One of the silliest was 'A Jihad on all Blue Drinks' - for our American readers, a 'jihad' is a holy war... This struck me as a bit silly, sort of like hating on the Pina Colada. Just because blue drinks were often terrible didn't mean the whole concept was, after all, there are blue drinks in the Savoy Cocktail Book, some are even quite good.
Anyway, around this time, I think it must have been Sept 07, we were all in New Zealand for the annual bout of mixological overload that is the Cocktail World Cup, and the favourite drink at that time of most bartenders (who seem to suffer from waves of groupthink) was the Corpse Reviver Number 2, a smashing and mostly forgotten cocktail. I love wordplay and silly puns and so as a laugh I ordered a Corpse Reviver Number Blue, using one of the bottles of blue curacao that had been requested for the competition by the team from Thailand, where lurid and luminous drinks never went out of fashion.
Early the next year, I was at the excellent 1806 Bar in Melbourne, where they take their craft very seriously, but on their excellent menu they also featured a Japanese Slipper, a Midori-heavy number invented in the city in 1984. Australia, for all its wonderful modern bartending, is still the largest market for Midori, and one of the bartenders and I were discussing whether a drink with Midori was more offensive to the 'classic cocktail' world than a drink that was blue. To settle the argument we made a Japanese Slipper and a Corpse Reviver Number Blue, and I'm happy to say that the blue drink tasted more like a 'classic' cocktail even if looked like something from Miami Vice.
Anyway, I guess you could say its a reaction to the rather backward-looking phase that the cocktail world went through over the last few years - that a drink from 1905 was inherently better than one from 2005 by virtue of its age. I certainly don't think that modern drinks are always the best, but the reverence for the antique cocktails and earlier flavours like rye and Chartreuse - was becoming a bit stultifying. Though I guess you could accuse the blue drink craze as being another facet of the 80s revival of course! Regardless, whenever I found myself in a bar that took itself very seriously, the Corpse Reviver Number Blue, together with the Fernet Branca Mojito, became my usual 'silly' order to bring some hilarity back.
Jacob Briars and Jason Williams, at right, at the 2011 Cocktail World Cup
In 2008 an excellent bar opened in Australia, called Sweatshop, where the bartenders Jason Williams and Adi Ruiz, had a drink menu where you could 'upgrade' the menu to blue for an extra 50c. Again, this was a reaction to how serious mixology had become.
Clearly not taking it all too seriously.
In December of that year a bartender called Tim Judge in Auckland built a menu around the old wedding adage, 'Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue' which featured a Blue Mai Tai and a Corpse Reviver Number Blue sharing the page with the classics. And slowly the blue tide started rising!
Since then I have been served, or forced the bartender to serve, blue drinks in PDT, Milk and Honey, LAB as well as using blue drinks in a couple of talks at Tales of the Cocktail.
The 'grand-daddy' of ironic use of blue drinks is certainly Gregor de Gruyther, the fabulously talented and mischievous British bartender who used to randomly make blue shots at LAB bar in London. I guess the bartenders who share Gregor's love of blue curacao are those that appreciate the classics and our craft but try not to forget that our guests come to us to have fun and be entertained.
Dean Callan and Alex Kratena in London, Jason Williams, Adi Ruiz and Sebastian Reaburn in Australia, and Philip Duff and Angus Winchester (locations: all and none) have all done a wonderful job at repopularising 'Vitamin B' among the modern mixology world.
The Simon Leblon is cut from much the same cloth, a fairly classic tasting cocktail that also happens to be outrageously blue.
--Jacob Briars, a.k.a. Blue Lantern