In a slinky dress on a balmy May night, “The Bachelor” star Hannah Godwin was making the rounds at a Brooklyn rooftop party with a cocktail in hand: No, not a martini — not even an espresso martini. Godwin’s drink of choice? A boozy blue raspberry slushie. “Blue cocktails are a thing right now,” she told TODAY Food. “It reminds me of my childhood, so the fact that I can sprinkle that in my adult life now is really fun and nostalgic.”
Along with her fiancé, Dylan Barbour, Godwin has partnered with Daily’s Cocktails as the brand’s “first-ever Co-CEOs of Chill.” But she admitted there was another reason she’d chosen the blue drink from a rainbow of others that night as partygoers bombarded her with selfie requests: She thought the color would look better in photos on her feed.
Godwin is on to something, said Andrea Ramirez, manager of consumer and customer market insight at Torani, which makes several popular blue syrups. “All those cool colors, from Blue Curaçao and blue raspberry, to blueberry and lavender and blackberry, offer visual appeal that looks wonderful on social media, and bring a sense of excitement,” explained Ramirez. “The purpose of that blue is to be fun. And we are, a couple of years into the pandemic, desperate for fun. The idea of something that’s joyful and happy that isn’t really trying too hard or snooty — that’s wonderful.”
Like the Dirty Shirley, which the New York Times called “nostalgic, colorful and unapologetically sweet” in its case for making grown-up Shirley Temples the drink of the summer, blue cocktails have an undeniable retro appeal. But while Shirley Temples rely on grenadine for their signature red, when it comes to turning a drink blue, the number of options is only growing — and they don’t have to be sickly saccharine.
In 2015, when blue drinks were also having a moment, Eater traced the very first craze back to “Victorian England, circa 1850, when an affinity for artificial colors — particularly royal purple — extended from articles of clothing to edibles.” Back then, the color was created from coal tar — not exactly what one might call a health elixir. It’s a far cry from the tools we have at our disposal these days. Ramirez pointed to interest in natural flavors, like butterfly pea flower tea, blue matcha and blue spirulina, as a reason that blue drinks attract adults tapping into their inner child. In the past five years, she said, natural sources of vibrant color “made the realm of blue be a little more acceptable in a wide-spread way. It shows there are some other forms of bringing in that fun, aside from the addition of food coloring. Of course, you can make a case for having things just look beautiful, too.”
Get the recipe: Alejandra Ramos’ Mermaid Limeade
Facing a third pandemic summer, Americans are reorienting themselves to an “altered landscape of possibilities … as we rewrite our lives,” according to Pantone, which chose Very Peri as its 2022 color of the year. It’s a blue that the brand claims “displays a spritely, joyous attitude and dynamic presence that encourages courageous creativity and imaginative expression.”
When it comes to cocktail culture, that’s evident everywhere from the Olive Garden’s Blue Amalfi drink (“inspired by the vibrant blue waters of Italy’s Amalfi coast”) to Applebee’s summer-ready Tipsy Shark cocktail garnished with — what else? — a gummy Great White. And from the national franchises to New York’s swankiest cocktail bars, there’s another obvious reason the trend is catching on.
Nicholas Bennett, the beverage director at Porchlight in Manhattan, said a single order can set off a chain reaction. With that in mind, when he was designing the opening menu for what would be restaurant legend Danny Meyer’s first cocktail bar back in 2015, Bennett said the first recipe he developed was for a drink called the “Gun Metal Blue.” It’s been a mainstay on the menu ever since.
“I love the idea of cocktails that get dismissed as too sweet or are forgotten about, and trying to make them better and turn them into something that is designed for a modern palate,” Bennett said. “People think it’s going to be too sweet or too fruity and taste bad. And I wanted one that tasted genuinely good. As soon as one person orders one, you see other people notice this bright-blue cocktail being walked through the room. And we also garnish it with a flaming orange twist over the top, so it has this pop of light before it goes out. It makes people turn their head and go, ‘What was that?’ And suddenly you have an order for five or six or 10 more. It kinda sells itself.”
With eye-catching, beautiful colors and florals, they take you away from the doldrums of city life.
NICHOLAS BENNETT on blue cocktails
Bennett said he’s not surprised to see blue drinks go viral again. “Even more than fashion, cocktails are super cyclical. You see that with the espresso martini. In the late ’90s, everyone was drinking them. And now they’re all the rage after 20 years of people turning up their nose to that kind of a cocktail. Well, now that’s happening with blue drinks. Tiki and Polynesian cocktails are a separate thing but they had the blue as well, and it all kind of led to the same place. With eye-catching, beautiful colors and florals, they take you away from the doldrums of city life. Picture the Blue Hawaiian, another big-time classic, the kind of thing that people would’ve seen and drunk on vacation. And here we are, trying to recreate that in a New York City-style cocktail.”
Not far away at The Skylark, master mixologist Johnny Swet designed the bar’s namesake cocktail to match the color of the sky on their destination-worthy deck, which overlooks the Empire State Building. “This isn’t dark blue from Curaçao,” Swet, a 24-year veteran of New York City’s hospitality scene, said. “It feels like it’s an outside blue.” Like Bennett, Swet has had the Skylark on his menu since day one. “I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve learned you want something that makes people go, ‘Ooh, what’s that?’ And the blue cocktail accomplishes that. You can catch their attention with that color.”
But you needn’t book a trip to New York City, or even a reservation at the Olive Garden, to paint the town blue with this summer’s most refreshing cocktail trend: The internet is rife with recipes to DIY at home.
The hugely entertaining TikTok personality known as the Tipsy Bartender has over 6 million views on his tutorial for making a “Blue Candy Fishbowl,” and 5 million for his “TikTok Candy Jungle Juice.” He calls Blue Curaçao “the king of color.” “You young people out there are making the same thing we’ve been doing for years,” he crows triumphantly at the end of the video. “And I’m proud of all of you!”
If you ask Pantone’s Color Institute, which has been selecting a color of the year for over two decades, Very Peri is “rekindling gratitude for some of the qualities that blue represents complemented by a new perspective that resonates today.”
Perhaps what resonates with you today is a party-ready trough filled with booze and candy, a la the Tipsy Bartender. Or perhaps it’s a stiff drink served up with pride by a craft mixologist, who, Bennett promised, is not judging you for your order. In fact, he said, you can catch him doing the same thing this summer.
“If I’m out and I see a blue cocktail on the menu, I’m ordering it, because I want to see exactly what they did to take this ingredient people think is gross and turn it into something that’s absolutely delicious. And 99% of the time it’s great. And 100% of the time it’s fun — and that’s what’s most important.”