Mastering the Blue Hawaii With Garret Richard

In “Masters of Tiki,” we spotlight bartenders chasing perfection in one drink. Here, Garret Richard updates the ultramarine midcentury classic.

Created at the Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1957 by bartender Harry Yee, the Blue Hawaii is perhaps the most misunderstood cocktail in the tiki canon. Originally made with rum, vodka, pineapple juice and sour mix, its reputation was sullied by the same forces that brought tiki to its knees in the 1970s: artificial juices and a deference to corn syrup. The Blue Hawaii suffered a second blow by its conflation with the saccharine, yet similarly named, Blue Hawaiian, a cobalt-tinted take on the Piña Colada. But Garret Richard saw the cocktail’s potential.

“This drink telegraphs a specific time and place, 1950s and ’60s Hawaii,” says Richard, a torchbearer for the modern tiki revival. “I felt it was my duty to craft a drink that brought guests back to that era with one sip.” Having served other people’s versions of the drink as well as his own personal riffs for years, Richard eventually went back to the drawing board. “I thought . . . maybe I should just take it back from square one and see what the true intention of this drink is,” he remembers. “I needed to get it to a place where nobody could say anything about it—a classic cocktail drinker would like it; somebody who is color-blind would like it.”

With this as his guiding principle, it took Richard more than a year to arrive at his perfected recipe, which hews closely to the original; where Yee calls on sour mix, Richard opts for his own sweet-and-sour combination of lemon juice and lime cordial; for the all-important blue Curaçao, Richard relies on Giffard’s version, which supplies layers of orange flavor—candied, sweet, bitter—and, of course, the signature ultramarine hue.

In a slight departure, Richard reduces the pineapple juice from three ounces to an ounce and a half. It’s a move that prevents the drink from becoming overly diluted (and overly frothy) when he flash-blends the mixture with crushed ice—another departure from Yee’s original drink, which was simply built in the glass. “An ounce and a half is more than enough to get the pineapple across,” explains Richard.

But perhaps the biggest liberty Richard has taken is in the base spirits. Traditionally made with an equal split between unaged rum and vodka, Richard maintains the rum component—he uses Plantation 3 Stars for its relatively heavy body compared to other young rums—but swaps gin, specifically Plymouth Gin, for vodka. “I always thought that the Blue Hawaii had a really interesting use of vodka, which is there to sort of dry out the rest of the cocktail,” explains Richard. “But I’ve found that Plymouth Gin works even better.” The gin in question, however, is fat-washed with coconut oil, a move that yields what Richard describes as “a whisper of coconut.” It both tempers some of the harsher flavors of the gin, leaving just the botanical profile, and doubles as a subtle nod to the rival Blue Hawaiian. “There’s sort of a war between those two drinks,” explains Richard. “I wanted to be able to satisfy all of those expectations.”

Lastly, Richard serves the drink in a Hurricane glass (“something tall that will show off the foaminess of the pineapple”), and, in keeping with the original, tops the whole thing with an orchid, a pineapple wedge and pineapple leaves. “A fan of the drink shouldn’t know that any changes were made,” explains Richard. “They just should know that it’s really good.”

Garret Richard's Blue Hawaii

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