The umbrella drink is one of the most derided categories of cocktail. People say that they're foofoo, that the garnishes are ridiculous, and that drinks shouldn't be a color not found in nature.
Do you know what? They're right. A serious drink shouldn't be any of those things. The thing is, these weren't serious drinks, nor were they ever intended to be. These are drinks originally made to be consumed on vacation. They're supposed to be fun, darn it.
See also: How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai
I think fun is lacking in the bar world these days. I mean, there are some sensational cocktails out there, but in the pursuit of craftsmanship, we bartenders have forgotten that going out for drinks is foremost a social experience. So let's put the artisanal bitters back on the shelf today, and take a little trip to midcentury Hawaii.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the South Seas were all the rage. South Pacific was a smash hit musical on stage and screen. Elvis Presley did a series of movies set in Hawaii. And, of course, a couple of guys named Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic had Polynesian themed restaurants across the country.
In Hawaii, the tourist trade was booming. In the middle of it all was the Hawaiian Village Hotel on Waikiki. At the bar, a guy named Harry Yee went on to single-handedly launch millions of little paper parasols.
There are few things more eye-catching than a big vase of neon-colored liquid with an orchid sticking out of the top. That whole image you have in your head right now is entirely Yee's doing. At the hotel, drinks were originally garnished with a stick of sugar cane. But there was a problem: It was messy. People would chew on the cane, then stick it in the ashtray, making it hell to clean. So, Yee switched to vanda orchids just to keep things clean. The flowers were a hit with tourists far and wide.
One of the most notable of the Technicolor drinks is the Blue Hawaii. You might think that the Elvis Presley movie of the same name was named for it, but the relationship is tangential. The drink was named for the title song, which was composed for a movie musical back in the 1930s.
The drink is instantly recognizable thanks to its vivid azure hue. But why would anyone make a blue drink in the first place? The answer is pretty simple. It's all in the marketing. The people at liqueur maker Bols approached Harry Yee with their blue curaçao, and asked him to create a drink to show off the color. He did, and it went on to be one of the most iconic tropical umbrella drinks around.
Make sure to give this drink a good, hard shake. The pineapple juice creates a thick head that I think evokes seafoam on the drink. If you don't have any blue curaçao you can always switch to plain old triple sec, but what's the fun of that?
Also of note: The original recipe called for sour mix. However, we can give the drink a serious upgrade without getting too serious by making our own out of equal parts of lemon juice and simple syrup.
Blue Hawaii 3 ounces pineapple juice 1/2 ounce lemon juice 1/2 ounce simple syrup 1/2 ounce blue curaçao 3/4 ounce white rum 3/4 ounce vodka
Shake well with lots of ice. Pour directly into a tall glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a little paper umbrella.
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