Blue drinks are the happy meals of the cocktail world. No matter what’s in it, if it’s blue it’s automatically better, and way more fun. Bright blue drinks, however, are not restricted to that moment of the 20th century where everything was both big and blue and sweet and served in a hurricane glass with crushed ice. Make no mistake, 1970s kitsch drinks can be spectacular if you invest the time to craft them well, but sometimes you want an old school stirred drink that’s both high proof and as blue as anything that comes with pineapples and a straw.
The Blue Monday is older than you think. It’s originally a recipe created, or at least documented, by Harry Craddock and recorded in the Savoy Cocktail book from the 1930s. Most striking is that it’s not only blue, but a vodka cocktail, something rare at the time. Vodka in the U.S., when Craddock plied his craft, was really only known in Eastern European communities, and the few cocktail recipes we have that are of similar vintage are from those communities. Places like the Russian Tea Room, which served alcohol in the years leading up to prohibition, would offer vodka, but not many other places. The Blue Monday, at least, is proof that vodka could be found and could be enjoyed and wasn’t just for those longing for a taste of home.
But it’s blue! How did Craddock make it blue? Blue Curacao was totally a thing, being sold by Bols as creme de ciel, cream of the sky, but Craddock instead used Cointreau and blue vegetable extract. Wrinkle your nose all you want, blue vegetable extract is just food coloring, only from a vegetable, not a test tube. Craddock’s Blue Monday, then, is vodka, Cointreau, and the blue vegetable stuff. Why not just use blue curacao? One can only speculate, but maybe Craddock was just set on using Cointreau, and who can argue? As far as orange liqueur goes, Cointreau is a quite respectable product.
The only downside to Cointreau is that it’s not blue. Some would say that’s an upside, but why is some curacao blue, anyway? It all goes back to Lucas Bols. Curacao, a liqueur made from the peels of a bitter orange native to the island of Curacao called laraha, has been around at least since the Dutch West Indies Company conquered and occupied the island in 1634. Bols, who held shares in the Dutch West Indies Company, took full advantage of the ill gotten bounty as a low cost source of spices for their distilled products. Finding that the peel of the bitter, inedible laraha held wondrous aromatic oils, he developed a product that is today the direct ancestor of curacao. Is it curacao? Who knows, but it was an orange liqueur made from the same stuff that flavors Cointreau, so, one can say Bols created curacao. Probably.
The Bols family of Amsterdam first opened their distillery, t Lootsje, in 1575. When Lucas Bols came along in the late 1600s, and presided over the families holdings during the golden age of Dutch colonial power, his significant holdings in the Duch West Indies Company gave him access to the ingredients needed to expand the business and try his hand at new products, one of those being his new orange liqueur that was, surprisingly, blue. When asked why, Bols stated only that he added an “element of alchemical mystery” to the product. Smoke and mirrors aside, he added color, but, more interestingly, is why, and why blue?
We may never know for sure, but Bols Blue Curacao is still a thing. It’s no longer sold as creme de ciel, but it is still sold. The blue color itself is an additive called E133 Briliant Blue, and definitely not what Lucas Bols would have used at the turn of the 18th century. Briliant Blue is a synthetic dye produced by doing tricky stuff to things with very long and complicated names, and found in many foods, not just curacao. Have you ever had a blue Jolly Rancher? Briliant Blue. Is it bad? You be the judge. It’s an organic compound, but produced in a lab. It’s also approved for use in food in both the U.S. and EU, is poorly absorbed by the human body, and really only exists to make things that aren’t blue, blue. If you want to avoid it, you can make the Blue Monday without blue curacao and it would objectively taste the same, but, really, we all know better.
Craddock, however, chose Cointreau, which is clear, so he had to add the vegetable color. It’s baffling that he would make the effort to color the Blue Monday at all but blue makes everything better, and a blue cocktail tastes better because it’s more of an occasion. It’s a blue party in your glass and blue is a calming color because blue is on a wavelength that calms even the most agitated ogre, but the color doesn’t suggest the taste of orange in any sane way. It does now because we know blue curacao tastes like orange, but you would no more know that than if you looked at a Circus Peanut candy and thought no way will that orange peanut looking thing taste like banana, yet it does.
So, while grooving on the bright blue bottle of orange, and noting irrelevantly that Craddock never stirred a cocktail, everything in the Savoy book is shaken, even the Martini and this sidestep from it, let’s look at the recipe. We favor Dale DeGroff’s version because it uses blue curacao instead of vegetable dye, and Cointreau which keeps it loyal to the original. We also stir it because, look at it. A martini might be passable if it’s cloudy from shaking, and that’s OK, it will clear up, but a Blue Monday should be crystal clear and sparkling blue when served up. A cloudy Blue Monday would just be an overcast day in a coupe, and the only response to that is disappointment. So grab a bottle of Medoyeff Vodka, and stir up a powerful, high proof classic for the inner child in all of us, then garnish with some kumquats, which you can play with and eat because what’s a happy meal without some kind of toy?
Stir with ice and serve up. Garnish with kumquats, or a flamed orange peel.
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