Kind of Blue

Traditionally the colour of questionable cocktail choices, shades of blue are now the coolest hue.

Kind of Blue - YAM Magazine Jan/Feb 2024
Photo By: Andréa Conforti.

By Joanne Sasvari

It’s a bold decision to make a blue drink the signature cocktail of your fancy new lounge. But that’s just what Brant Porter has done at the Humboldt Bar.

“I like how our house cocktail is blue, which is kind of fun,” says the bar manager of the stylishly cozy downtown hideaway. The citrusy, slightly floral, foam-topped drink is called the Cyanometer, and Porter explains: “This was a clever device created by a Swiss man [Horace-Bénédict de Sauserre], but popularized by Humboldt, which measures the blueness of the sky.”

The bar is named for Alexander von Humboldt, the 19th-century German naturalist, geographer, world explorer and polymath who had an outsize impact on our world. Among other things, he was arguably the world’s first environmentalist, or as Porter calls him, “the David Attenborough of his age,” and the type of capital-R Romantic who would want to define celestial levels of cyan. 

 Blue in the sky is caused by nitrogen and oxygen particles, water droplets and ice crystals; blue in cocktails requires other ingredients, usually blue curaçao, an orange-flavoured liqueur tinted azure. It can also be achieved through food colouring, some algaes or butterfly pea blossom, whose unstable pH shifts from indigo to violet, lavender to pink, depending on its contact with acidity. 

In the case of the Cyanometer, the blue comes from North Van’s Sons of Vancouver blue curaçao. Over at the Fairmont Empress, the Lavender Haze cocktail gets its hue from Empress 1908 Indigo Gin, which is infused with butterfly pea blossom and has one very powerful fan.

“Empress 1908 Indigo Gin went viral on social media as Taylor Swift fans started using it to create ‘Lavender Haze’ cocktails in celebration of her hit song,” explains Lisa McPhail, director of public relations for the hotel. “The drink of choice quickly topped the fans’ charts — becoming the hit elixir for fans celebrating one of history’s most famous sold-out tours.”

It seemed only natural that the hotel’s Q Bar would rename its Lavender Lemonade for the popular song, too. 

The blue in the Lavender Lemonade/Lavender Haze is a float that transitions to purple, pink and gold; similarly, the blue of the Salish Seabreeze at The Courtney Room is also a float, in this case the SoV blue curaçao, that sits atop a tropical-meets-Pacific-Northwest blend of several kinds of rum, cream of coconut, San Juan kelp tincture, charred orange juice and pineapple star anise.

A kiss of ocean air, it’s just one of the exciting and complex drinks bar manager Anton Wilson has crafted with ingredients found by local forager Lance Staples and illustrated by artist Cate Webb, each paired with a thoughtful anecdote. 

After all, as Porter says, “Every cocktail has a story.” And sometimes that story is kind of blue.

Cyanometer Cocktail

Recipe courtesy of Brant Porter at the Humboldt Bar. 

• ¾ oz Sheringham Raincoast Gin 
• ¾ oz El Gobernador Chilean Pisco 
• ¾ oz Oolong Tea Syrup (see recipe below)
• ½ oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice 
• ¼ oz fresh-squeezed lime juice 
• 1 tsp blue curaçao 
• 1 egg white 
• Garnish: Blue Bitters (see note)

Combine all ingredients (minus the bitters) in a cocktail shaker without ice and shake for 10 seconds to create a foam. Add ice, then shake hard for another 10 to 15 seconds, until the shaker is cold and the cocktail is well aerated. Use a cocktail strainer to strain the cocktail into a chilled Martini glass or cocktail coupe, then garnish with 3 drops of Blue Bitters on top of the foam. Enjoy immediately. Serves 1.

Note: To make Blue Bitters, add a drop of blue food colouring to a bottle of Scrappy’s Seville Orange Bitters (or any high-quality orange bitters). 

Oolong Tea Syrup 

• 2 ¼ cups filtered water 
• 1 tsp Silk Road Iron Goddess Tea or other high quality Chinese oolong tea leaves
• 2 cups granulated sugar

Bring water to a boil then transfer to a heat-proof container (such as a teapot) and add tea leaves. Steep for 5 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. You should have 2 cups of tea; discard any extra or add more water if needed. Add sugar and stir until fully dissolved. Cool, transfer to a non-reactive container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Empress Lavender Lemonade (Lavender Haze)

Courtesy of Q Bar at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Kind of Blue - YAM Magazine Jan/Feb 2024

• 1 oz Lavender Honey Syrup (see note)
• 2 oz Homestyle Lemonade
• 2 oz Empress 1908 Indigo Gin
• Garnish: Lavender sprig

Fill a stemless wine or rocks glass with crushed ice. Shake lemonade and syrup on ice and strain into the glass. Layer Empress 1908 Gin on top and add more crushed ice. Garnish with a lavender sprig. Serves 1.

Note: To make lavender honey syrup, stir together equal parts of honey lavender and hot water. Alternatively, simmer lavender sprigs and hot water together for about 10 minutes, strain, and mix the hot lavender “tea” with an equal amount of honey.