Dan Miles
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Blue drinks & bizarre ingredients: where will it end?

7th February, 2014 by Dan Miles

I love so many things about this industry.  But there are also things I hate. Foremost amongst these are blue drinks and bizarre ingredients.

Blue Drinks Picture

I love the sound of a bar when it’s full and the feel of it when its finally empty. I love the creak of leather as you sit on a vintage chair and the first expectant glimpse of a new cocktail list.

But I hate blue drinks and bizarre ingredients.

Blue Drinks might seem a small thing to have big issues with and I admit part of it might be down to being a child of the eighties, a decade that gave us the Blue Lagoon, Blue Whale, Blue Alexander, Blue Angel, Bahama Blue and the Black and Blue (which was incidentally just blue.) But to me there’s just something superficial and forced about them, like the laugh track on an episode of Friends. They’re a throwback to the least elegant age of the cocktail, a time, like much of the music, best left forgotten.

Nothing is ever improved by being that colour. It’s probably blue because of Blue Curacao, though I am aware you can achieve it through the water of boiled cabbage, but face facts you probably haven’t. I do not believe Blue Curacao improves any drink (one word – Cointreau.) If something is not improved by an ingredient then by default it’s lessened or at least plateaued by it. The only reason therefore that the drink is blue is because a bartender wanted it to be, and why is completely beyond me, but it’s spreading I tell you, spreading!

Last time I ranted about this, a friend bought me a Corpse Reviver Number Blue in retaliation despite knowing my stance on this issue. I then faced the argument that blue drinks are fun! Blue drinks are not fun! They do not sing, dance, or do humorous impressions, they are the same drink – only blue! I refuse to bow to this tyranny of novelty. It’s a fine line from there to drinks with sparklers in them.

Where was I? I redded out their for a bit. Oh that’s right, bizarre Ingredients.

Blue is bad

Blue is bad

Not to be confused with innovative ingredients which I am all in favour of, I’m talking about ridiculous and unnecessary inclusions, (though I admit there can be a fine line between the two.) I’m talking about the father of baby twins who claimed breast milk as an ingredient in his twist on the Alexander and sparked a small biohazard event. I’m talking about, and no names mentioned, the venue that included a whale skin infused whiskey drink on it’s list. I’m talking about ingredients that do not in any way contribute anything whatsoever to a drink except a surreal sense of the bizarre and a small glimpse into the inner workings of the bartenders mind, a place no one should willingly tread.

I’m aware that bartenders will use anything as an ingredient given half a chance. If there had been one at Roswell in the fifties they would no doubt have attempted to infuse a drink with alien blood (and it would probably have been blue). However all because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do something.

I’m pretty sure the whale would have preferred the latter.

3 Responses to “Blue drinks & bizarre ingredients: where will it end?”

  1. Ross Kerslake says:

    You shouldn’t be so hard on blue drinks, if they’re done well then they really can be amazing. Tweet this to @vodkaprofessor – he works for Bacardi and is the man for all things blue drinks.

    That being said I have had so many drinks overtaxed with Blue Curacao so I feel your pain – the Blue Lagoon scares me.

  2. Rhys says:

    Ah that would be Mr Briars, the king of all things blue who will no doubt have a response to this shortly. However I am with the writer on this one, at least on the blue drinks part however I am partial to the odd bizarre ingredient every now and then, sake with a cobra in the bottle for instance!

  3. Jacob Briars says:

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting viewpoint, always good to see some spirited debate. As you know I am a firm supporter of blue drinks and have done a little to help bring them back from the brink, as it were.

    I agree that bartending is a slave to fashion, and we are as an industry very prone to exhaustive over-use of an ingredient that just 12 months ago seemed cutting edge. But this is not unique to blue curaçao. In this same vein could be included Fernet Branca, Chartreuse, rye whiskey, even mescal is now on that slippery slope from playa to played out.

    However, don’t let the excesses of our own industry put you off. Whether we are talking about a ‘silly’ ingredient like blue curaçao or a ‘serious’ ingredient like Benedictine or Chartreuse, what’s important is that a drink is well balanced. A skillful bartender, grounded in the classics, can make a great drink from any ingredients. A bartender that’s running before they can walk, probably can’t. But it doesn’t have to do with the ‘bizarre’ ingredients, more the skill of the bartender you’ve sat down to. In the food world we have seen that fusion can be sublime when prepared by Peter Gordon, that molecular can dazzle in the hands of Ferran Adria, and Rene Redzepi can produce magic using just the ingredients of one small region. Not all their imitators are so good at execution. Does this mean that fusion, molecular and foraged meals should be campaigned against, so we can all eat a ‘serious’ meal? I certainly hope not!

    I think it telling that some of the most talented bartenders of our era, Alex Kratena, Gareth Evans, Naren Young, Jason Williams, the much missed Gregor de Gruyther, all have a soft spot for blue drinks and have done much to popularize them in recent years.

    The reason? Cocktails are not a serious business, their primary purpose is to bring enjoyment to those drinking them. We can enjoy the history and archaeology of our craft as much as we like, but I don’t really think cocktail making should either be prescriptive or ossified in venerating only ‘classic drinks’. If a drink tastes great, is well balanced and well garnished, then to my mind it’s a great drink.

    In my many years of making blue drinks, they have never failed to bring a smile to the face of a guest. That to me is a very powerful endorsement, and isn’t that the main reason we are all in this business in the first place?

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