The first time I heard of a blue coloured cocktail was in the 1988 movie Cocktail, in which Tom Cruise plays a bartender who makes a drink called Turquoise Blue for a patron at his bar. To be frank, the thought of blue drinks has never really appealed to me personally, but when I found out that the recent Giffard West Cup 2019 (Asia Pacific region) had a challenge that required bartenders to come up with a blue-coloured drink, I decided to explore the subject further.
A quick Internet search revealed that many of the more classic blue-coloured drinks tend to be tropical-themed tiki drinks, with the most famous being the Blue Hawaii, made with pineapple juice, blue Curaçao liqueur, coconut cream, and rum or vodka (or sometimes both).
Then there’s the Turquoise Blue (white rum, blue Curaçao, pineapple juice, sweet and sour mix), the Blue Lagoon (vodka, blue Curaçao, lemonade) and the Midnight Kiss (vodka, blue Curaçao, lemon juice topped with Champagne), and several others.
As you may have noticed, the main ingredient for most blue drinks tends to be blue Curaçao liqueur, a spirit that is made with the dried peels of laraha oranges, a bitter citrus fruit native to the Caribbean country of Curaçao which has bitter, unpalatable flesh but unusually aromatic peels.
The exact origins of Curaçao liqueur is a hotly disputed subject, with two companies staking a claim to being its original inventors – the Curaçao-based distillery Senior & Co and The Lucas Bols Distillery from Holland.
Originally, Curaçao liqueur has no colour, and no one really knows who was the first to add the iconic blue colouring to the spirit, but it’s a colour that it turned out to be best known for (though it also comes in other colours, including green, orange, red, and the original clear liquid).
But don’t worry even though its colour is blue, the liqueur itself still tastes very much of oranges.
Besides Blue Curacao liqueur, there are other ways to turn a drink blue. In Malaysia, the bunga telang, or butterfly pea flower, is a common ingredient used in Malaysian cuisine to turn certain dishes blue, such as nasi kerabu and pulut tekan.
Bartenders also use it to add a blue tinge to a drink, and as an added bonus, the colour turns a pleasant purple when it comes into contact with an acidic element such as lemon or lime juice, which adds to the aesthetics of the drink.
According to Giffard Asia’s brand developer and beverage innovation manager Timothy Jason (better known as TJ), the reason blue drinks aren’t as popular could be due to the fact that the blue colour tends to look a little unnatural.
“When you order a red strawberry drink, you don’t question it, because red is a natural colour for a strawberry. But the electric blue colour of the Blue Curaçao can seem a bit unnatural,” he said, before assuring us that the blue colouring in Giffard’s Blue Curacao Liqueur is made from natural ingredients and is 100% safe for consumption.
He also adds that almost every bar in the world would have a bottle of blue Curacao Liqueur in their back bar, but it is hardly used at all these days. That was something that he set out to change with the Asian Pacific region leg of its premiere bartending competition, the Giffard West Cup.
“Blue Curacao is almost a forgotten spirit – it’s on almost every bar, but it is hardly used. So, I wanted to encourage Asian bartenders to start using it again through the competition, and bring back the fun in making blue drinks,” he said.
Founded in 1885, Giffard is a major beverage company based in Angers, France that specialises in premium liqueurs and syrups. The company has a portfolio of more than 50 liqueurs and about 70 different syrups, including its iconic signature mint liqueur Menthe-Pastille, and is listed among the Top 10 Trending Liqueurs by Drinks International magazine.
The Giffard West Cup is an annual international bartending competition organised by the French liqueur company, and this year’s competition theme is “Fun In the Sun”, to commemorate the founding of Giffard during “one hot steamy summer of 1885 in Angers. France”.
In 2018, Malaysian bartender David Hans was crowned champion at the competition’s global finals in Angers, and next month, Kuala Lumpur will be playing host to the Asia Pacific regional finals. Malaysia will be represented by Shirmy Chan of Petaling Jaya bar 61 Monarchy, who emerged as the Malaysian champion at the national finals in January.
For the first challenge of this year’s competition, participants were required to prepare a “new, fun classic drink using at least 10ml of Giffard Blue Curaçao Liqueur”.
“We got quite a good reception for the competition – there were more than 300 blue drink entries from all over the region,” said TJ. “We were also surprised by how creative the bartenders were with using the Blue Curacao – many of the drinks were not tiki drinks, but very elegant cocktails.”
Case in point – Chan’s winning drink, the Fisherman’s Blue, made with Citadelle dry gin, Japanese sake, Giffard Grapefruit Syrup, Giffard Blue Curacao, fresh lime juice, tonic water, and garnished with edible gold dust to create a drink that reminds one of a clear blue ocean with starlight glittering on the water.
Chan said the drink is inspired by her father, who is a fisherman. “The blue colour represents the sea, where my father spends most of his life in as a fisherman, and the garnish of gold dust symbolises the fishes my father caught, which he used to support our family,” she explained.
Well, based on her drink, as well as all the other drinks that were part of the Giffard competition, maybe blue isn’t such a strange colour for a drink after all.
Also read: Symphony in red: What is Campari and how do you drink it?