Society has zenith points; cultural high water marks which stand as testaments to our achievements as a species; the building of Notre Dame, the abolition of slavery, the filming of The Empire Strikes Back.
Then there is the flip side, our dark underbelly of cultural shame; the fall of the Roman Empire, the Spanish inquisition, X Factor.
This is just as true in the world of drinks. There are the highs; the invention of the Martini (sometime around the mid 1800’s) the repeal of Prohibition (a government sponsored cultural experiment in how to make a whole nation miserable) the creation of Sipsmith London Dry Gin (in a garage in Hammersmith Circa 2009.)
Then there are the regrettable lows; the death of Professor Jerry Thomas, (creator of everything worth drinking prior to 1885 – excluding the Mint Julep though it’s possible as no one actually knows who invented that) Pre-mixed cocktails, the invention of Smirnoff. The lowest point however in the history of the entire beverage world is not a singular event, but an entire decade. We know it as the 1980’s.
The eighties sucked, and no amount of retro club nights, dance remixes and ironic fashion throwbacks (Dalston – I talk to you) can change that. In short, if you enjoy the Pet Shop Boys then you are too young to have properly experienced them the first time round.
Historically the world of Cocktails breaks down into convenient epochs. First came what we will call Pre-Prohibition (1803 – 1920.) This was sort of like puberty, where everything was new and unexplored and no one was quite sure what it did, but if they played with it long enough they might just figure it out.
Next came Prohibition (1920 – 1933) the adolescence of the cocktail world. Everything got a little dark and strange, and alcohol was produced clandestinely in secret corners with the same sense of shame, embarrassment and outright confusion you might have got from watching Jane Fonda in Barberella on VHS with one finger clamped on rewind.
After Prohibition came Tiki (1944 – unknown but probably still ongoing if Mahiki has anything to do with it) a glorious coming of age. Finally released from the near extinction level events of back to back Prohibition and WW2, the pimples vanished, the hair finally settled and everyone got down in hula shirts and made drinks in pineapples.
Tiki never really died, but the drinks world settled into something akin to a dignified middle age. No one had anything to prove anymore; sure they still owned the Hula shirt but it stayed in the cupboard, and what they really wanted was a nice, aged Scotch. This was the high water mark. When the wave finally rolled back and we were left with nothing but the stained line left by its passing and the cracks exposed in the industry granite. It was 1980 and it all got a little strange.
Suddenly drinks became increasingly garish mission statements. Everything had a sparkler stuck in it, or steamed with dry ice. Overnight it was as if Danny La Ru, Julian Clary, Carmen Miranda and Liberace had all been appointed Director of Drinks to the entire freaking world. Businessmen in smart suits clutching nascent mobile phones the size of a humidor could be seen at the bar with one foot up on the rail drinking something that looked like chemical waste in a glass with more curvy bits than Shakira.
It was not a subtle decade, drinks invariably had names creeping with vague (and not so vague) innuendo; the orgasm, the multiple orgasm, the slippery nipple, but the most enduring legacy of this decade of despair and really big hair was the bartenders insistence on making everything blue. There are, quite literally, no end to 80’s drinks of a cobalt hue, many of them featuring the word blue in the title in case you didn’t get it the first time; there was the Blue Lagoon, the Blue Whale, Blue Alexander, Blue Cosmopolitan, Blue Angel, Blue Dream, Blue Hawaiian, Bahama Blue, Blue Eyed Bitch and the Black and Blue (colour actually blue.) What they all have in common is Blue Curacao, a substance that if it was a person it would be a bald man sat in an armchair stroking a cat and staring in pride at his newly constructed death ray, and it had the effect of making an entire decade taste sort of orangey.
For those lucky ones who are un-initiated, Blue Curacao is an orange flavour liqueur. For a long while orange was hard to create as a food colour (hence the reason 80’s orange sweets were also blue) and most attempts at creating it looked like the result of eating a curry in La Paz. Finally chemists caught up (I’m convinced as a way to stop people blueing their damn drinks, weirdly at the end of the decade, coincidence I think not.) It’s a form of triple sec, therefore it tastes of orange, therefore you could always use Cointreau, therefore the only reason the drink is blue is because someone wants it to be. And why would you want something to be blue? How many delicious foodstuffs can you think of that are naturally blue? (Yes, yes, Blueberries, get over it, but they are technically Indigo, which is its own shade and closer to Violet on the colour spectrum.) Essentially there is no situation where blue is actually necessary. It’s a personal choice. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all about personal choice, you want to dress up as Hilary Clinton and sleep with bikers I’m still proud to call you my friend, and I admit perhaps as an occasional novelty blue drinks might perhaps be permissible, but an entire bloody decades worth????
This was a triumph of could over should, and as history continues to show us, just because we can do something does not necessarily mean we should do something. We could create an atom bomb and chemical weapons that only target people with freckles and look how well thats worked out for us. All it really proves is that bartenders have always got bored, and Blue Curacao was cheap between 1980 and 1989.
Thankfully the decade ended, the Berlin Wall came down, Survivor and The Bangles disbanded and the cursed stuff went back in the cupboard and a new epoch began, a quieter time where people were rightly embarrassed about a decade drinking Long Island Iced Teas and B52‘s and began to yearn for bespoke gins, speciality rum, premium vodkas and the swirl of a nice cognac in a cut crystal glass. Society moved on, learned from their mistakes and emerged the better for it.
Then recently someone came along and f****d it all up for everyone.
Somehow blue drinks have become cool again. Perfectly respectable bartenders, who really should know better, have started to use it indiscriminately. As far as I can tell this is the work of one man, one brand ambassador (who will remain nameless) who is either having a really big laugh at our expense, or who owns shares in Blue Curacao which he bought cheap in 1990. Thanks to this man’s bloody charisma, others have started to jump on the bandwagon and, like chemical weapons it’s begun to proliferate all over again.
Our only hope, the only way for you to stop this looming disaster, like Picard to the Borg, is to draw a line in the sand and say “this stops here!” To raise a hand, palm outward to your bartender when he reaches for the cerulean bottle and say “put it – the f**k – back down,” and then hand them the Cointreau.
Its not too late, we can stop this, we just have to think back to 1987, to picture Tom Cruise throwing bottles and reciting crap poetry and remember there was a reason Brian Brown slashed his throat with a bottle of Louis XII in that movie. Shame! Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it and if we open this door, even a fraction, God only knows what will come through. Before we know it Erasure will have reformed, we’ll all be watching Chuck Norris movies and thinking they’re awesome, and everything will have a synth beat!
Finally I speak to any industry professionals out there and say beware. If you are working one night and a charismatic brand ambassador with an encyclopedic knowledge of recipes and a faintly colonial accent charms his way across the room to discuss blue drinks with you – do not trust that man! He’s smarter than all of us and will stop at nothing, nothing! Until all our drinks are blue.
You have been warned.
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