Blue cocktails are festive, eye-catching and perfect for Instagram-worthy photos. Most bartenders have relied heavily on Blue Curaçao to turn their drinks the right hue of blue, but several are discovering the magic of butterfly pea powder, a natural dye derived from the flowers of the butterfly pea plant.
Originally used throughout Southeast Asia as a natural dye for savory dishes, butterfly pea powder will give cocktails a vivid blue coloring. It also changes color at different pH levels, with lower pH levels/higher acid turning it from dark blue/purple into a bright, light pink, and at higher pH/higher alkalinity, turning it into a dark grey.
For instance, Gary Hayward, North American brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire gin, created the Collins Avenue cocktail, made with gin, simple syrup, 10 drops of butterfly pea extract stirred with ice and topped with soda.
Bartenders should present the drink with separate mini carafe of about ¾ oz. chilled fresh lemon juice and instruct guests to pour contents of carafe to into drink and watch it change from blue to pink.
Justin Lavenue, owner at The Roosevelt Room in Austin, TX, recommends using butterfly pea powder for high-acid drinks. “Cocktails with highly alkaline ingredients, such as orgeat, coconut cream, avocado, basil, cucumber, ginger, mint and peppers can turn the drink gray when used in conjunction with the powder,” he says.
Lavenue says butterfly pea powder doesn’t really affect a cocktail’s flavor, when used but it can affect texture so mixologists should use it sparingly. “The powder doesn’t fully dissolve in solution (alcohol), so it can leave a grainy texture if used in too high of a quantity.”
GETTING THE BLUES
Bartender Lynnette Marrero from Llama Inn in New York discovered butterfly pea powder this year. “Blue cocktails have been trending for a while, but the only ways before have been chemical coloring,” she says. “Butterfly pea powder is great because it’s all natural.”
Pandan, another Southeast Asian plant, is similar example of a natural dye for food and drinks, Marrero notes; it creates drinks that end up more green than blue New York cocktail bar Slowly Shirley has been using pandan for a while, she adds.
Marrero uses butterfly pea powder the same way she uses tea in cocktails; a tea syrup is also a good way to incorporate it, she says. “You also want to use lighter or white spirits so the color does not change too much.”
Wild Hibiscus Blue-Tee 100% Pure Butterfly Pea Flower Tea (about $5 for 20 teabags) and b’Lure blue extract made from butterfly pea powder. Lavenue buys the powder online for just over $3 per ounce, “and one ounce will last a long time,” he notes.
Both Marrero and Lavenue have created blue drinks using butterfly pea powder and Bombay Sapphire gin; Lavenue is Bombay Sapphire’s 2015 Most Imaginative Bartender Winner. Here are two recipes they’ve shared.
(created by Justin Lavenue)
1 oz. Bombay Sapphire gin
1 oz. Grapefruit juice
½ oz. VSOP Cognac
½ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Absinthe
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 tsp. Butterfly pea powder
Combine ingredients and shake well. Double-strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a mint sprig tied around the stem of the glass.
Summer 75 Punch
(created by Lynnette Marrero, serves 10)
1 ½ cups Bombay Sapphire gin
1 cup Butterfly Pea flower tea brewed and chilled
¾ cup St. Germain elderflower liqueur
¾ cup Fresh lemon juice
3 cups Martini & Rossi prosecco
Combine first four ingredients in a punch bowl or pitcher and mix. Add prosecco. Freeze edible flowers in ice and use to chill punch.