For many, the Blue Hawaii may conjure images of kitschy Hawaiian shirts and Jimmy Buffet concerts, but rest assured this cocktail has a rich, complex history that reaches far beyond its novel, neon blue color and elaborate garnishes. Garret Richard, chief cocktail officer at New York’s Sunken Harbor Club and author of the upcoming book, “Tropical Standard,” takes the hot seat today to discuss the Blue Hawaii’s history and lead us in remembering its creator, the late Harry Yee. Listen on to discover Richard’s Blue Hawaii recipe — and don’t forget to like, review, and subscribe!
Garret Richard’s Blue Hawaii Recipe
- 1 ounce sour mix (recipe follows)
- 1 ½ ounces fresh pineapple juice
- ¾ ounce Denizen white rum
- ¾ ounce vodka or coconut-oil-washed Plymouth gin
- ½ ounce Giffard blue curaçao
- 1 teaspoon gum syrup (or cane syrup)
- 5 drops saltwater solution (8 parts water, 2 parts salt)
- 12 ounces crushed ice
- Garnish: pineapple leaf and wedge, orchid, and blue cocktail umbrella
- ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce lime punch syrup (lime juice, oleo saccharum sugar, citric, and malic acid, all to taste)
- Combine sour mix, pineapple juice, rum, vodka (or gin), blue curaçao, gum syrup, saltwater solution, and 8 ounces of crushed ice in a large tin.
- Flash blend for 3-5 seconds.
- Put remaining 4 ounces of crushed ice into a Hurricane glass.
- Pour blended mixture into glass.
- Garnish with a pineapple leaf, pineapple wedge, orchid, and blue cocktail umbrella.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: We’re in the Cocktail College studio, the VinePair headquarters studio. I should say we’re in the C-suite, though, because today we have Garret Richard in the house, the Chief Cocktail Officer at Sunken Harbor Club. Garret, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Garret Richard: Yes, it’s great to be here in the C-suite. We’re close to a bar, so I feel like this is the A-suite, actually.
T: Yes, definitely. We like to have that bar there so that when our guests come in, they feel like they’re in their natural habitat.
G: Very easy transition.
T: Exactly. You feel at home. Sometimes it is a little bit — It’s fairly early in the morning today, I think, for a bartender schedule that we’re recording, but how’s it going?
G: Yes, early for bartenders. I’d say very late for a radio podcast, right?
G: Somewhere, we’re in the middle.
T: Great one for us today, the Blue Hawaii. Cannot wait to get into this drink. First of all, though, this is probably one of those where people already know you for tiki drinks, for tropical drinks, so this is a perfect selection for us. Maybe it’s not a drink that everyone is familiar with, or they know all the components. Do you want to just start by telling us what those are? Also, there might be some folks going, “Wait, it’s the Blue Hawaii. I thought it’s the Blue Hawaiian. Is it the same thing?” What’s going on there? Why don’t you tell us all of that to get us going?
The History of the Blue Hawaii
G: Yes. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the history. What actually is the platonic ideal of this type of cocktail? I think that’s by design, right? The main intention of the drink is you’re drinking a blue drink, so the idea is very casual to outsiders that aren’t making that drink. It’s like, as long as it’s blue and it’s tall, you’re good to go. You see blue drinks at TGI Fridays and that’s it. During the early craft cocktail revival, that was the joke, that the blue drinks are going away and we’re going to get back to more serious things; But the fact is that the history of the drink, the history of blue curaçao is way more layered and interesting than most people give it credit for. Really, the creator of the Blue Hawaii, Harry Yee, is the founder of what actual Hawaiian drinks are. Harry was hired by Henry J. Kaiser, who was an industrialist who wanted to build, basically, his own version of the cocoa palms in Hawaii. And he built the Hawaiian Village, which was eventually bought by Hilton. Harry was hired there as a bartender. At first, he was making Pink Ladies and Planter’s Punches and things that were popular stateside in California and the major metropolitan cities of the continental United States. And he realized that there weren’t Hawaiian drinks that reflected the produce, the visual style of Hawaii, and he wanted to correct that. He is not only responsible for the Blue Hawaii, but the Tropical Itch. He is one of the parents of the Banana Daiquiri. You should do that episode. It’s much more complicated, but he was at least somebody that sold it to people and made it popular. The Tropical Itch is a huge cocktail in its own right, but the Blue Hawaii is probably his most famous creation. It was made for a resort. The cocktail really was designed for that super-high-volume turn and burn style that resorts have. It was really a built drink. It was almost like a highball. It was sour mix, which he was most likely making. I don’t think they were importing it from the United States. That would be largely impractical back then. It was a sour mix that most likely was made in-house: pineapple juice, the blue curaçao, and then vodka and rum. It’s actually a really interesting use of vodka because Harry has said many times that if you don’t use vodka in the drink, it’s incorrect.
G: To me, I think it shows how you can take a very wet cocktail and then lengthen it using vodka. It’s like if you make the original spec with just white rum, it is a little sticky, it is a little bit too juicy. The idea, I think, is that you’re just drying out the rest of the mix with that. It’s something that I’ve used in other cocktails where it’s like, “Okay, I have all these really interesting ingredients, and how can we expand upon that?” David Wondrich has written about this as well. It’s seeing early uses of vodka in cocktails that use interesting liqueurs like Benedictine and Cherry Heering, and using the vodka to basically make the Benedictine the star. And very much so, Harry Yee was doing that with the blue curaçao. It’s such an interesting concept though, because I feel like some people will think that you have rum and then you’re adding vodka, you are not just diluting the flavor of rum, you’re also making it taste like ethanol essentially, or like alcohol; But the whole idea of a good-quality vodka is that it is neutral. It delivers the booze, but it doesn’t taste like alcohol. That’s what a good vodka is for me, and they’re out there. I think the other thing to keep in mind is that Harry was most likely using products that are different now. He called for a white Puerto Rican, but most likely not as aggressively column-stilled as the white rums that we’re getting now. You have to remember that Bacardi started as a pot still product in Cuba, and then over time, because of the rise of vodka and lighter spirits, that became more aggressively rectified. If you think about it that way, he was most likely diluting something that was a lot more interesting, and essentially making more of a white rum that we know today. There’s a split in white rums now, where you have these aged white rums like Denizen and Plantation 3 Star, that go through like three- to four-year aging and then they filter it out through charcoal. Then you have other white rums that are much lighter, like Don Q Cristal. But back then, he was probably taking something that was fairly interesting and lengthening it out.
T: Interesting as well that, just compared to tequila, where I feel like with, say Cristalino, you’re creating a clear spirit, but it’s actually an aged tequila. The folks are more up in arms about that than, say, maybe when it does happen with rum. I do find that interesting. Of course, there are other styles of white rum, like Jamaican ones that are so full of character and probably very highly alcoholic.
G: Like Wray and Nephew.
T: Like Wray and Nephew. There’s another one. I’m blanking on it.
G: Oh, like Rum Fire.
T: Rum Fire, that’s exactly it. The point is, though, that no one’s up in arms in being like, “Plantation 3 Star, why are they doing that?” That’s a phenomenal cocktail rum. It’s like a very good old rounder, in my opinion. And no one’s like, “Hey, but why are you filtering it? What’s the point?” Do you know what I mean?
G: No, I almost think, to make cocktails today, you need one of those heavier white rums and lighter white rums. It’s nice to have that option.
T: It’s funny that we do that so often with rum-based drinks too. I’m just curious here, have you ever done that with a Margarita, where you’re like, “I’m going to use three different blancos and try,” like how folks would do with a Daiquiri, but with tequila?
G: I have recently at home, actually, because I’ve been trying to — This goes a little off subject, but since I’ve worked at existing conditions, most of my syrups are all adjusted to certain levels of sugar. I’ve been trying to do that for the Tommy’s Margarita, where it’s like I actually measure the inherent sugar in the agave nectar, cut it with water, and then have a 50-Brix agave nectar. I’ve been playing recently at home just like, “Okay, what is it like with Tapatio? What is it like with Cierto, likewise?” So definitely, yes.
T: That definitely is off topic. I do want to bring us back to the topic here of Harry Yee because, to take us a little bit behind the scenes here, we’ve had this recording on the books for some time. But unfortunately, it’s real sad to hear, in between the time when we first said we were going to do this drink, we learned that Harry had sadly passed away. So I wonder if you can just share some more words about this person’s career. And also, he was 104?
G: 104. Remarkable.
T: That’s a great innings, and I’m sure many lives lived in that time. But do you want to just, I don’t know, pay a little tribute to Harry there too?
G: Yes. Some of the really cool things that he’s contributed to cocktail culture, that we take for granted, is that he was the first person to add an orchid to a cocktail, most likely the Blue Hawaii. Although it’s questionable as to which one it was, it was actually a practical reason. They were originally garnishing drinks at the Hawaiian Village with sugar cane sticks. He said to a couple of journalists that it would really annoy him because people would chew on the sugar cane sticks, put them in ashtrays, and then the ashtrays would have a bunch of melted sugar and tobacco, and just make a mess. He was like, “I got to do something else.” The orchid came into play because he was like, “It’s easier to clean up.”
T: Do orchids grow quite freely out there in Hawaii, or what? It’s my understanding that it’s a pretty difficult plant to look after.
G: It can be, but I think it was available, and then he found a use for it. Then he created a market for it. He was the master of the creative garnish. The Instagram garnish game that we have right now would not be the same if it wasn’t for Harry. He garnished the Tropical Itch with a back scratcher, which back in the day would’ve been all over Instagram, the first time that happened. He also was the first person to use a cocktail umbrella. He used it in a cocktail called the Tapa Punch, which was lost for a number of years. Jeff Berry was able to get that recipe and another interesting recipe called the Chimp in Orbit fairly recently for his reprint of “Sippin’ Safari,” which is really cool. But, I mean, the cocktail umbrella and the orchid — if you just did that, and didn’t even create any recipes, you’d already be-
T: A legend.
G: -good to go. And the Tropical Itch, that cocktail has a really interesting use of bourbon and rum together. There are different versions of it, but Harry’s planting it in American whiskey, and doing an American whiskey tropical cocktail in Hawaii is really cool stuff. It goes back to his philosophy of like, “I wanted to make drinks that reflected Hawaii.” He said many times that Okolehao, which was the local spirit at the time, is too strong for tourists. It’s like, “Okay, how do we create drinks that are Hawaiian that tourists will want, but are still reflective of where we’re living?”
T: That’s amazing. Really, really forward thinking. I’m glad that we’re covering this strength now. It feels apt for the moment. Also, you mentioned there — I don’t know, I have a question for you, yourself, as a bartender because you’ve long been involved in the tiki and tropical cocktail realm. It’s funny that since the cocktail renaissance, a big part of it has always been this thirst for historical knowledge and people thinking like, “Who can find the original recipe of this?” and whatnot. It feels like tiki does take that to the next level. You were talking about Jeff there, uncovering a recipe. Is that something that really appeals about this style of drinks for you? Is that what attracted you to that or is that just something that’s interesting about it too?
G: No, it’s definitely attractive to me. I think really, that it’s a puzzle because a lot of those cocktails, over time, changed so much. You think about some of the early down the beach, summer drinks. Most likely the grapefruit that he was calling for is very different now. The sweetnesses of the syrups are different, most likely, than what we’re using, as well as all the rums. Really, it’s a matter of interpreting the spirit of what it is and then trying to get it into today’s canon and how it works behind today’s bars. Then, it’s also just making sure that in making any changes, someone who loves the drink and loves the idea of the drink doesn’t see anything. Like, the edits are invisible. That’s at least, for me, my philosophy, and especially with this drink, I tried to make enough edits to it, where it’s like I really like it, it’s a good drink. Even if you can’t see the color, it’s delicious. Like anyone who’s a fan of a Blue Hawaii would just be like, “Yes, that’s a Blue Hawaii.” They wouldn’t be like, “Oh, that’s their version that has these X amount of changes.”
The Ingredients Used in Richard Garret’s Blue Hawaii
T: Let’s do the old Eiffel 65. Let’s get into blue here for a second. Sorry, that’s corny. You mentioned at the beginning, in the cocktail renaissance, there’s this joke that we’re getting away from blue drinks. What about now, though? I think of our friends down there at Temple Bar and their Blue Negroni and whatnot, and that’s shocking. What is the state of blue drinks in 2020? There’s probably three by the point this episode goes out.
G: I think people figured out that most orange liqueurs are colored after distillation. They come out usually as a clear product. Cointreau is probably the best example. You can get some color from aging, like Grand Marnier, but a lot of curaçaos go through some coloring process. Because that knowledge is there, I think bartenders are a little more open to being like, “Okay, look, we understand that certain products that we all know and love are also artificially colored.” It’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world to use something that’s unnaturally blue. No one goes poor selling blue drinks. They are very visually appealing. It’s interesting to look at the history of blue curaçao. I think the general narrative is that it was a product in the ’50s. Somebody came to Harry and was like, “I have a new bottle for you, try it out.” In 1912, Bols created this product. Originally it was called Crème de Ciel. It was cream of the sky. The idea was that this was a sky-blue-colored liqueur. It was still a curaçao, but they were trying to market it that way. Before Prohibition in the United States, it didn’t have much time. It was only a couple years, and this is a pre-communication revolution, so it didn’t really go anywhere. But post-Prohibition, you did have a couple mentions in cocktail books. “The Cafe Royal Cocktail Book,” which is a U.K. Bartenders Guild book, has quite a bit of blue curaçao drinks. A lot of them are gin-based.
T: Oh, really?
G: There’s a Blue Lady. There’s the Blue Star. The Blue Star was like a gin and Lillet cocktail. It’s interesting to think that if the Blue Hawaii didn’t exist, most likely, historically, that blue curaçao would probably be associated with gin rather than this cocktail.
T: That’s crazy.
G: Then you see other drinks later, and maybe it’s because they didn’t have access to Bols Crème de Ciel or blue curaçao, where you see people adding blue food coloring to Cointreau in certain recipes, which is interesting. “The Savoy Cocktail Book” has some of those. Then even before that, in the 19th century, you have the Parfait Amour, which is a purple-ish, citrus, vanilla cordial that turned into a cocktail. It’s this really interesting, very 19th-century color. And Don the Beachcomber used that. He used it in his Royal Daiquiri cocktail, which Brother Cleve had a riff on-
T: I was just going to say Brother Cleve had a riff on-
G: The Stardust.
T: -the Stardust. That is a wonderful drink. I think you can actually get that down there. I think they just put it on the new menu down at Lullaby, Harrison Snow’s.
G: That’s great to hear.
T: They have a tribute to Brother Cleve on the back of the menu. You actually need to turn the menu around. I’ll say, if you find yourself down there, turn over and it’s the Stardust, and it’s a very Cleve drink by the looks of it.
G: I think he switched the lime for lemon from the original Royal Daiquiri. It seems to me like it was inevitable that, at some point, there was going to be a blue-orange liquor on the market. It’s like it wanted to exist. Then, contemporaneous to Harry, at Bryant’s in Milwaukee, they were known for the Pink Squirrel and the Banshee, but they also did another cream-based Alexander ice-creamy thing. They called it the Blue Tail Fly, which used blue curaçao.
T: I’m thinking we’re going to need to get you back for a blue curaçao episode here. There’s a lot more uses for it than I think we realized. The Blue Lady — instantly I’m like, “I know what I’m doing later.”
G: It’s funny, I was just in Japan about a month ago, and I ran into a blue curaçao drink I’ve never seen before. It was in the Roosevelt Bar in DisneySea, which is insane, by the way. It’s a half-scale cruise ship: a fake cruise ship that you walk in, and then it’s all Teddy Roosevelt-themed in there. On the menu, there were a couple classics, like the Jack Rose and the Greyhound and all that stuff. Then, there were a couple drinks that were like, “I don’t know what these are.” One of them was called the Skydiving. Then, I found through a Japanese bartender wiki that it was a competition-winning drink from 1967 from a bartender named Watanabe who made — it was just literally white rum, blue curaçao, and lime cordial. I was like, “That’s an interesting idea,” because you could do that now with Japanese rum. There’s lots of little avenues to play around with that.
T: Yes, that’s real cool. To tie us up here on the blue curaçao, you mentioned something, too, where you’re like, “Look, some bartenders have just come to realize that it’s artificially colored or whatnot, and it’s up to you whether you want to use something that is or not,” but to bring us back to that blue Negroni — the Negroni itself, Campari, and coming out red naturally. Do you know what I mean? Red is fine, blue is not? I don’t know. It’s an interesting one to think about there. We’ll hit the pause on the blue curaçao. I think we’ll probably come back for another episode on that one. That could be fun. What about your own relationship with this drink, though, the Blue Hawaii? When did you first encounter it, and have you had any particularly memorable or notable ones throughout your career?
G: Yes. I encountered it pretty young. In college, I was making cocktails in my dorm, messing around. I had some of Jeff’s books at the time. Going out, it was on menus at Asian restaurants and what have you. Those were just acceptable, I guess, at the time. The first craft versions of it that I encountered were the early neotropical bars in New York. They were iterations at Lani Kai and Painkiller, which then became PKNY and both were really good. The PKNY one was very Sasha-style, where it was served on a big rock. It had lemon juice and a little bit of Demerara instead of a sour mix, and it was really good. Julie Reiner’s version leaned into the debate, which we’ll get into later, which used a little bit of cream of coconut. That’s the Blue Hawaiian, which we’ll talk about. It’s also really nice. It’s a nice compromise. It used a little bit of the coconut and the creaminess to give that body and that texture. She also had a frozen version, which I think was called the 808 State, and at the time, that was pretty early with bars getting frozen machines. I liked both of those quite a bit. For me, it’s funny. The next step of where I got obsessed with the Blue Hawaii was having one at the Tiki-Ti. When you go to the Tiki-Ti, it’s one of the bigger cocktails you can get. It’s in a big snifter. The move that they do that’s really interesting is, well, one, they flash blend it. At the time, I was trying to teach myself this technique because it was virtually nonexistent in New York. In California, it was much more commonly used, but in the craft world, flash blending was illegal, essentially. I would go to Tiki-Ti to watch them, see it in action, and see it in service. The Blue Hawaii, when it’s flash blended, has a huge head on it because of the pineapple juice in it. The move that they did is they would float a little bit of Galliano on top, which, at the time, I was obsessed with. I was like, “Yes, no, I’ll take the Galliano drink.” I think it was the only Galliano drink on their menu.
T: For anyone, just by the way, who’s unfamiliar with the technique of flash blending, do you want to just briefly explain that?
G: Yes. Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re taking a milkshake mixer which is going at a very high RPM, and the spindle at the end of it is essentially an electrified swizzle stick. You build your cocktail in a large tin, like a milkshake tin or it could be the large side of a shaker. You’re then adding a little bit of crushed ice to the tin and then blending it in the blender for three to five seconds — really quick. What’s great about it is, you’re getting a ton of aeration, a drop in temperature that’s faster than shaking, and you’re actually getting more water up front. But the idea is that with the chill and the water up front, you’re going to actually get less on the back end.
T: It’s the reverse of what you would have if this were a shaken drink?
G: Yes. I think the thinking for a while in New York was to do the opposite, where it was thinking more about Mint Juleps and things, as in crushed ice drinks that are not in the tiki canon. The problem is that sometimes you would get crushed ice drinks that had a giant mountain of it, and that mountain of crushed ice could kill some of the complexities of certain cocktails. If it’s a Zombie, you pack the ice, but if it’s something that’s light and juicy, a dome of ice on top is probably going to last maybe five minutes before it starts leaching way too much water. The idea with flash blending is that you’re really managing a lot of that dilution. It’s the difference between having an Old Fashioned on a big rock versus shell ice in terms of water management.
T: What about maybe, say, a classic version of this drink, but really dialed in? What is it that you are looking for there in terms of the profile?
G: Yes. Well, with all three of those versions, I think the platonic ideal of this drink is that you want it to be juicy and fruit forward, but not sweet. You want layers of citrus because the idea is that essentially, you’re getting orange, lemon-lime, because the OG sour mix probably had both, and then pineapple on top of that, and pineapple being the larger star of this. There’s a lot of room to then work within those four fruits playing in harmony with one another. I think this type of drink is not thought about a lot in tropical bars and tiki bars. You sometimes want that fruit-forward drink that’s not going to be a calorie or sugar bomb, but something that’s also not as intense as a Navy Grog, or a Zombie, or a Mai Tai. At Sunken Harbor Club, I have a, basically, yellow version of a Blue Hawaii, which we call the Yellow Tang, where it replaces the curaçao with banana. There’s a little bit of passion fruit as well to give it some other layers.
G: Yes. The idea was a thought experiment of, like, “What if you did a Blue Hawaii, but replaced the color with a different color?”
T: Yes. That’s cool.
G: When I was constructing this spec, I had originally something very different, which was leaning a little bit more on the Tiki-Ti style, the Blue Hawaiian style. To get this out in the open, the difference between the Blue Hawaiian and the Blue Hawaii is that, at some point post-’60s, somebody figured out that you can add blue curaçao to a Piña Colada. It looks nice and it’s great. A Piña Colada is white, so it’s very easy to diet other things. You see this with other variations on the Piña Colada, like the Lady of Singapore, which has cherry, and the Miami Vice which is the most famous riff on it, and the Lava Flow. Somebody was like, “Okay, you can float blue curaçao on it. Great.” That is diametrically opposite of what Harry’s drink is. Harry’s is like citrusy, light, and then you have this thing that’s heavy and sweet. But because the Blue Hawaiian exists, there are lots of guests that assume that that drink has to have some coconut element to it, which we can get back into later. The point is that, when I first started specing the Blue Hawaii, I was leaning more on the coconut element. I was leaning more on the stuff that I had seen at Tiki-Ti, and I had a completely different version of it that I did at Slowly Shirley for the very first iteration of my pop-up, which was called Exotica. It was good. There were some fans of it. I served it at the Hukilau in 2017 and got very mixed reviews. I was like, “I think I need to take this back to the drawing board and let the idea sit for a couple months.” I moved my pop-up to Raines Law Room in Midtown, where I was able to work with an old friend of mine who I’d worked at Prime Meats. His name is Jimmy Colon. Originally, it was just going to be a one-time thing on his birthday, and then I think we did 10 iterations of Exotica at Raines over the years right before Covid hit. In the second or third one, I was like, “Yes, I really want to revisit the Blue Hawaii.” I’d also had some people ask for the old version, but I was like, “I don’t want to serve that anymore. I want to do something different.” I went back to that concept that we talked about, like, “How do we get these multiple layers of citrus to be interesting? How do we reflect the sour mix, but do it in a craft way?” I went to that spec that I’d had at Painkiller and just looked at it a little bit more. I thought like, “How can I bring my own interpretation to it?” The sour mix got broken up into fresh lemon juice, and then a cordial that we now make, which at the time we just called lime cordial. I was using it at Slowly Shirley in a lot of drinks. Now I refer to it as a lime punch because it’s not necessarily a cordial. It’s a syrup that has oleo saccharum sugar and juice, and then a little bit of citric and malic acid. That lime punch syrup gave it all of those beautiful sour mix-y things, but without any of the unpleasant artificial aftertaste to it. It gave a lot of body because it had real lime oleo saccharum in it. That was the key. Then the next big leap was, “Do we just do it with vodka and light rum?” It was nice. It was pleasant, but at the time, I was also playing around with coconut oil washes on different spirits. I think we may have just had it lying around for R&D, but I had a bottle of Plymouth that had coconut oil washed into it.
T: Plymouth Gin?
G: Yes. The nice thing about the wash on the Plymouth was that when you do a fat-wash, you’re stripping some flavors, right?
G: The oil stripped a lot of the juniper notes of it and left really a lot of just the citrus elements of the Plymouth.
G: It was very citrusy Plymouth finished with coconut, and I was like, “This is great. We can use this with a white rum and that can be the base, and that can address anyone that wants this to have coconut,” because it’s more now a whisper of coconut, and it doesn’t have any sugar element to it.
T: We’re also adding more character there just in terms of flavor, but another thing to consider too: You’re hard pressed to find a vodka above 40 percent ABV, but Plymouth comes in at — What? 47 percent? Maybe it’s a little bit lower than that. Do you know what I mean?
G: Right. It ups the ABV a little bit.
T: Its texture too.
G: When you do a fat-wash on a spirit, it does add some nice little texture to it. I think those two big elements, like figuring out what the sour mix was going to look like, and then the spirit mix. It was pretty easy after that. We cut down the pineapple because, when it’s not a built drink, we wanted it to be flash blended so that it had a little bit more aeration. I liked the style that the Tiki-Ti was doing in that regard, so we cut the pineapple in half. Harry’s was three, ours was 1 and a half ounces. That really then became the drink. We kept the blue curaçao at half-ounce. Over time, I was able to figure out how to make that half-ounce work even more. Originally, we had a small amount of cane syrup just for body, but now at Sunken Harbor Club, I use gum syrup, which is white. I hate having to work on drinks like this, where it’s like you have to preserve certain elements for color reasons, but I’ve been able to figure out the maximum amount of certain things where it doesn’t turn green. That’s the hard part. The pineapple is yellow, so yellow and blue? Having your spirits be very white and then having everything else at a minimum helps.
T: Just to recap there — that’s a brilliant ton of information. So just to recap, blue curaçao is blue curaçao.
G: I used the Giffard normally.
T: The Giffard.
G: Although back in the day when I first started, the Senior Curaçao was the best one on the market, and it’s still really nice. Luckily, there’s options for good-quality blue curaçao.
T: The Bols bottle looks good. That’s all I know.
G: Yes, it’s cool graphic design.
T: And pineapple juice, you’re not really messing with. We’ll get into the specs later, but the pineapple juice is pineapple juice.
G: It should be fresh. Again, thinking about the spirit of the cocktail, I’m sure at some point, because of volume, the Hawaiian Village was probably using stuff from Dole. But in the beginning, I’m sure that they were getting fresh juice. Here is the thing, I feel like there’s a myth out there that fresh pineapple, in certain tiki circles, doesn’t aerate properly. I think that that’s from bad technique in terms of flash blending, because as long as you’re not using a pineapple that’s green, that’s not ripe yet, it’s the easiest thing to have texture once you flash blend. I’ve never seen that be a problem. Just treat your fruit properly.
T: Just again, for that sweet and sour mix, your advice here is to settle upon maybe a mixture that works for yourself? Of course, we’re not buying something crap, some rubbish. That sweet and sour mix would contain, you said, lime, some oleo saccharum, something cordial-esque, but this is maybe more zesty.
G: It’s a cold-processed syrup. Basically, we use one-half ounce of lemon and one-half ounce of this lime punch syrup. That syrup first came about when I was working with Jim Kearns at Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley. He had worked with a pastry chef at The Nomad helping him out with a project he was working on outside of The Nomad — helping him try to figure out how to make oleo more efficiently, and how to then use it in its applications. He came up with a lemon syrup, and then I just took that concept and applied it to lime. Happiest Hour is a beast. It was a super-high-volume bar when it opened. There were rare times where it was like, “Let’s just make this for fun.” It was more like, “We have to make this many gallons of lemon syrup.” But I would come in on my time. I often would be like, “What if I just made this with lime instead of lemon?” Then over the years, I’ve refined this recipe so that now it has citric and malic acid, which preserves the bite of the lime indefinitely. There’s just little hacks that I’ve added over the years, but really, I’d started with Jim. We used the lime punch in a drink called the Cleopatra and the Swamp Fire at Slowly Shirley, which had some legs at the time. It was something I wanted to keep with me, and when I jumped to Raines and started working with Jimmy, I showed him a bunch of ingredients where I was like, “Hey, these are some of the fun little things we had at Slowly. Let’s see how we can figure out how to use them at Exotica here.”
T: Nice. We’ll get to your spec in just a little while, but if folks were approaching this, say, in a classical way — We haven’t spoken about rum yet, either, but let’s talk about vodka first. If they’re doing that, just looking to maybe create a classic textbook version of this drink, any tips on what vodka they should be using? Do you get into these ingredients?
G: Yes, I found a really cool vodka that I use in the Yellow Tang at Sunken Harbor because the Yellow Tang is only vodka. It’s vodka in banana liqueur, which is a banana liqueur we make. The vodka is — I’m not sure if you’ve had it, it’s called Black Cow.
T: Yes, I have. New Zealand?
G: No, it’s from England.
T: Ah, from England. Yes, sorry.
G: It’s from a dairy. It’s made from basically leftover-
T: It’s whey protein.
G: Yes, whey and milk. They were a dairy first, and then figured out that with everything left over from making that stuff, you can make a really nice distilled spirit. The cool thing is that it’s neutral in flavor, but it’s insane on the texture. It’s great for this because you still get that drying element, but you’re also getting a nice roundness which rounds out the texture of the pineapple.
G: In a classical way, this is really the same style of drink as a Garibaldi. Think about, like, juice highballs. Harry made a fancy, gussied-up version of that. It’s more complicated than a Salty Dog or a Garibaldi, but still, it runs on 3 ounces of juice and then just little accents here and there. You can then take this drink to the next level if you decide to shake it or flash blend it, but then you’re almost stepping more outside of the highball territory and into more of a cocktail at that point. It depends on what your mood is — what your thing is. I feel like you could see, at some point, a built version of this drink with fluffy pineapple juice, right?
G: Where it’s like the pineapple’s coming straight out of the juicer. There’s options. For me, I like it as in the Tiki-Ti style, but I think there’s — and I’ve seen other people do it up shaken before.
T: I’d like to have that version.
G: John Berry has a version of it.
T: Oh, yes?
G: I think the general idea of citrus, pineapple, and light spirits — There’s so many ways to go about it.
T: Many avenues. I think Broken Shed was the one I was thinking of, by the way, there. The other one, that’s the vodka that’s from New Zealand.
G: Oh, yes. Sure.
G: No, I think the way milk-based spirits — is so cool. I hope you see more of it.
T: Well, Aaron Goldfarb, friend of the show here, has an article about that on VinePair — about Chobani.
G: Oh, sure.
T: Go check that one out: Goldfarb Chobani. Google that. You’ll find it pretty easily. Rum. Surprised that this is the one we’ve landed at last. I think that says more about the drink than anything else, but-
G: No, it’s true. We touched on it a little bit before. I think what you’re looking for — For me, I want something in the rum world that exists right now. I want those heavier, aged, filtered whites. You’re looking at things like Flor de Caña, Denizen 3-Year, Plantation 3 Star. Originally when we speced the drink out, it was Plantation 3 Star. I’ve switched to Denizen White at this point. Not saying one is worse than the other, it’s just I go through a lot of Denizen at Sunken Harbor Club and I use it for a lot of things. It works for what I have. Flor de Caña has this butteriness to it, which I think also would probably lend some nice texture to the drink. In addition, if you use something like a Black Cow, it’d be a very milky, juicy drink.
T: All three molasses-based rums there. Plantation is from-
G: They use a blend of three.
T: They use a blend of three.
G: The 3 Stars of the countries.
T: That’s what the 3 Stars is?
G: Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados, I believe.
G: Then Denizen is also a blend
T: They’re a Netherlands-based company. Am I making that up?
G: You could be right. I’m trying to remember ownership and all that stuff, but they take some Jamaican rum, then some lighter styles, and blend it to make a 3-Year.
T: We’re not just talking like column-still molasses-based. That speaks to the point at the beginning there, of blending rums too. These are the pre-blended ones arriving already, right?
G: No, I would say if you want to go one step funkier, you could take this in that direction if you wanted. Because Banks has so many styles to it — When Jimmy and I were really at Exotica going, we did a cocktail class at Dear Irving talking about some of the drinks we were doing at Exotica. Banks was kind enough to lend us some product for that. The drink works great with it.
T: Nice. Maybe not one of those ones where you’re going to have the diehards going like, “No, I want a large proportion of funk or-”
G: I’ve thought about what funk is, and drinks, and whatnot for a while. I think the best metaphor is that it’s like hops. There are times where it’s like hops in beer. You want to be intentional and have a double IPA, but it’s not like every beer has to be that.
T: Has to be that.
G: I think that helped because I worked at Prime Meats for a while where the people buying the beer were working with German styles in addition to the crazier, hoppier Brooklyn stuff. After, they were like, “Look, you can’t have a menu that’s just all this.”
How to Make Garret Richard’s Blue Hawaii
T: True. No, that’s great. I think that’s perfect. I think we are ready now for you to talk us through the preparation of this drink. The spec you would use — Sometimes it’s difficult there, especially after we’ve had a conversation like this where you really laid out all these different avenues you can go down, or these theories, or interpretations of the drink. I’m going to say, “Can you talk us through and give us the spec for your interpretation of a classic Blue Hawaii there?” I’m hoping that’s what you were thinking when you were coming to the show today
G: Oh yes. Absolutely. We’re going to flash blend this thing, so we’re going to build it in a large tin. Due to my years of working with Dave Arnold at Existing Conditions, the standard operating procedure now for anybody that works at Sunken Harbor Club is to start with some salt in your drink. There’s very few drinks we don’t salt, and salt rounds out citrus flavors. It helps bring sweetness. I think the fastest way to explain why it’s effective in tropical drinks is, think about the layering of sweet and sour in cocktails. Sometimes young bartenders will get in the mistake of over-aciding, and then compensating with more sugar in this and that. If you add salt, you tend to be able to bring all of those things down because you’re amplifying the flavors that are there. You don’t necessarily have to go for an ounce of acid or what have you. We start with salt. Nowadays, I will use a teaspoon of gum syrup, but you can also use cane syrup just to give a little bit of body and texture — just some neutral sugar. Then add one-half ounce of fresh lemon juice, then one-half ounce of lime punch syrup, then 1 and a half ounces of pineapple, then three-quarter ounce of a heavy white rum. Then three-quarter ounce of — if you want to be traditional, go with something like Black Cow. Then, if you want to add that coconut element from the Blue Hawaiian, you would do three-quarter of an ounce of coconut oil-washed gin. There’s a gin on the market now that you could buy if you don’t even want to make the gin, which is Bimini Coconut. It works great. You get some other flavor from Bimini because it has hops and some other stuff. It works in that drink.
T: That’s really cool.
G: Then we flash blend with a cup of crushed ice, so about 8 ounces, and we pour it into a hurricane glass. I think a hurricane glass is the most elegant glass choice for this cocktail. We pour over 4 ounces of crushed ice. You see, with some flash blending, people put all the ice in the tin. We tend to cut the ice in two-thirds, where one-third is in the glass and two-thirds is in the tin. The idea is you get a little bit more aeration, and then you’re getting some unmolested ice in the bottom that can just work its dilution over time. Then, the garnish, you should go over the top. This is an over-the-top drink. We take pineapple leaves. We actually cut them from the bottom so that they have a gradient. When we garnish with them, they start white and green, which is really cool.
G: Then we always put a pineapple wedge, an orchid as Harry would do, and sometimes we do a umbrella as well to put a nod to Harry. Try to make it a blue umbrella if you can.
T: That’s wonderful. One final question there. The salt that you mentioned at the beginning — How much salt are you adding there?
G: It’s a 20 percent solution. If you’re going to make it at home and you have a little scale, it’s 80 grams of water, 20 grams of salt, and it’ll dissolve. Kosher is better. It’s about five drops. If you have a very small dropper, it’s five. If it’s a big dropper, do less.
T: Perfect. Sounds wonderful. We have the glassware there, the garnish. Any final thoughts on the Blue Hawaii today, or anything else?
G: It’s funny. I had to shelf it for a while because it was on the menu at Raines. They had an Exotica section so that when the pop-up wasn’t going on — because we did the pop-up for about every two to three months. We would do a new menu every time. They wanted something day to day, so Jimmy and Andres, who’s now on the team at Sunken Harbor as well, wanted something to show people. Like, this is a pop-up. So when it happened, everyone knew. On their regular menu, it ran for, I think, two years. It ran right up until Covid. When I opened Sunken, I didn’t want to just put this on the menu again. It was fun to reinterpret it as the Yellow Tang and to see where this juicy, but dry, format can go. I encourage people to think about it more because I think the big heavy hitters of Tiki and Tropical are always going to be these spiced, kick-you-in-the-butt kind of drinks. The thing is that, in the old menus of Don and his competitors, there was always this separation of light, medium and heavy drinks. It’s like sometimes bars need to think about the lower-end alcohol options of this genre because there’s just people that — At Sunken, we divided the menu that way, and people really appreciate it. They’re like, “Okay, I have a long night. I’m only staying in the light drinks,” which we call in the shallows. Then, there are other people that are like, “I’ve had a really bad day, I need to go to the abyss.” Yes, the Blue Hawaii would definitely be on the lighter end of the spectrum, but a lot of people appreciate it.
T: If folks were to swing by you saying you maybe don’t have that on the menu. Obviously, you have the Yellow Tang. But also, if folks are coming by you’re able to make this anyway.
G: Yes, we have all the ingredients for it.
T: You have all the ingredients. Also, I believe this drink might be featured in your upcoming book. Can you tell us about that?
G: Yes. During Covid, I had a lot of time to reevaluate some of my drinks. I had just worked two years at Existing Conditions where I learned a hell of a lot from Don Lee and Dave Arnold, and was able to learn the mechanics of what makes cocktails good. Why is lemon juice this acidic? Why does this syrup work this way? Just at the start of Covid, I’d looked at everything that I’d done through Exotica and Slowly Shirley, and even Prime Meats drinks, and just started reevaluating. Then, at the time, my co-author for this book, Ben Schaffer — he had written “The Dead Rabbit” book originally, and he has a publication called “The Rum Reader.” He approached me, and he wanted to do this small series of books on New York cocktail culture, and he just wanted to write about Exotica. He was like, “E-mail me back, give me some drink ideas, and it’ll be like a small little book in a series.” Then, I e-mailed him back an outline for, like, a 230-page book. He then responded, and he’s like, “I think I’m going to scrap the other idea. Let’s just do this.”
T: That’s cool.
G: Yes. That started in the summer of 2020, and now it is a book called “Tropical Standard.” It is going to be coming out in May of 2023. It really is. The book is about giving you the tools and techniques to make these types of drinks better. The first chapter is all about how to use flash blending in various styles: egg white drinks, swizzles, et cetera. Then later on, it gets into newer techniques like acid adjusting — all the stuff that Existing Conditions is famous for. There’s a huge section of, like, “Okay, what are some new things that tropical drinks can do, like stirred and savory?” Then at the end, the reward for learning all of these techniques is that there’s, like, a tribute section where we do tributes to the Mai-Kai, to Tiki-Ti, Ray Buhen. And Harry Yee has a section. This Blue Hawaii is in there, but also a riff on the Banana Daiquiri as well.
Getting to Know Garret Richard
T: Nice. Fantastic. Looking forward to that one. Those are tips that I’m — I don’t have the flash blender, but I’m not ruling it out in my future. I want to learn how to use one. Amazing. All right. How about we jump into the next and final section of the show, Garret, where we get to know you more as a bartender and a drinker? Those are our weekly recurring questions. We’ll start with question number one. What style, or category of spirit — I feel like I know where this one is going — typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
G: It’s Jamaican rum, specifically. Every other spot in our little rum area has a couple different styles. Agricole has its own shelf too, but the Jamaican shelf is overflowing. I think what’s cool about Jamaican specifically is that it’s equally designed for cocktails as it is for sipping. Then, there’s other styles where it’s more about sipping and less about cocktails. That’s what’s exciting to me as a bartender. The other thing is, I think Jamaican can layer really well. It’s like my Zombie, for example. My 34 is just all Jamaican. I’ve cut other styles out because there’s enough diversity in Jamaican rum now that there are bottles that are wildly different. Something like Rum-Bar Gold versus Smith & Cross versus Coruba. All are wildly different, and all can work in harmony with one another.
T: Amazing. Question number two: Which ingredient, or tool, do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
G: Well, the expensive answer is a Hamilton Beach flash blender. The cheap answer — I’ll give one that’s an easy Amazon buy, and we talk about this in “Tropical Standard” — is a milk frother. A milk frother, you can use to emulsify your egg white sours, but we talk about how it can be used as a way to melt sugar into citrus. The biggest problem with the Daiquiri is that, normally, you’re adding one-half ounce of water to a white rum. In the book, we explain that if you use a milk frother and a certain amount of sugar, you can take that half an ounce of water out, and you have a much cleaner, much crisper cocktail. If you get a Daiquiri at Sunken Harbor Club, unless it’s a very overproof spirit, it’s going to be with sugar, not simple syrup. It makes a huge difference because, with more subtle spirits, you can taste them more in this format. Rums that bartenders write off where they’re like, “Oh, it’s just vodka that’s made from molasses.” No, it’s not. It’s just that we’ve been overwatering them.
T: Obviously, stating the bleeding obvious here, but you can’t heat up citrus to put in the sugar to otherwise dissolve it.
G: Yes, a little bit of elbow grease. That’s a technique I picked up from Daniele Dalla Pola, who has a bar now in Miami called Esotico. He originally was doing this at his bar in Bologna called Nu Lounge. I just saw that and I was like, “Wow, this is really smart.”
T: Super smart. I’d never heard about that or come across that before today. Great one. You know what, I just got a little milk frother from a little work raffle here we had so-
T: Now I know what I’m using that for because I don’t take milk in my coffee. Question number three: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
G: Previous guest of the show, Richie Boccato, said this a lot in training his bartenders, and I’ve heard him say at interviews, like, you have to know a couple — Well, there’s two things I’ve heard from him that I’ve really liked. One is as bartenders, we’re servers, not servants. You need to remind yourself of that when things can get hairy, or a guest is being out of control and all that. Then, the other is a good bartender knows when someone comes to drink, or when someone wants to talk, and respects that need and that want. I think that’s really good advice.
T: That sixth sense reading the room, reading the guests there, and just being like, “Yes, what are they looking for?” Question number four, penultimate one here: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
G: Yes, it’s tough. That’s a tough question, but for me, if time and space aren’t a factor, there’s definitely some bars from the past I’d be interested in. I’d be interested in the early Mai-Kai when Mariano Licudine was running it, and tasting what an early Black Magic would be, because that’s a really interesting cocktail. We have a riff on it in the book. That’s one of those secret drinks that Jeff Barry has not unearthed yet. Mai-Kai has that under lock and key, so it’d be cool to taste the original-original version of it. I feel like the coolest scene for a vintage bar was probably Steve Crane’s Luau in Beverly Hills, because you heard that the Rat Pack would hang out there, a lot of Hollywood stars. Then, from a bartender perspective, apparently it was the hardest of the three to work in. It was harder than Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic because of how fast — how much volume was going on. From a service standpoint, it’d be really interesting. Then, I would say personally what really got me into, like, “Okay, I have to do this with my life.” One of the first bars I ever went to that I really enjoyed, but did not have a lot of time with because I moved back to New York: Caña Rum Bar, which is in downtown L.A. It was a members-only bar at first, and it was run by Allan Katz — not the Allen Katz from New York Distilling. This one refers to himself as the evil Allan Katz. He recently opened Here’s Looking At You in L.A, and then moved to Vegas. That bar had really innovative stuff, and it would be interesting to go back and see it now that I know what I know. When I was there, I was just starting out and tasting drinks, but that bar was doing Pandan drinks in like 2011.
G: Doing things that still would be innovative today. I remember they had a drink with Nissan and zucchini juice and Galliano — crazy stuff. And the thing is, every time I had one of those drinks, it worked. They were really good at being historic and being, like, “Okay. This is a riff on a Charles H. Baker drink,” but then just taking it to these insane levels. I would love more time at that bar because I didn’t nearly get enough.
T: Great choices. Final question for you today: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
G: It’s tough because, weirdly enough, I would say most people don’t know I am, on my time off, sometimes a Martini person, but that probably wouldn’t be my answer. I probably would want a larger, tropical drink. It might be a Black Magic because it’s big enough that I can contemplate existence for a while. It’s got some caffeine so I can get some final adrenaline before leaving this plane of existence. Yes, and I guess if it was one of my own, maybe making myself a Mai-Tai or something because I’ve worked on that spec for a long time too.
T: Yes, amazing. And folks, if you want to know more about that spec, I’m guessing it might be in “Tropical Standards.”
G: It’s in the book, yes. I would say though, if I wanted to be optimistic about the afterlife, it may be a Blue Hawaii. It depends on the day. I’m very much a creature of mood.
T: Well, Garret, thanks so much for joining us today. And hey, cheers to Harry.
G: Yes, 104 years of excellence.
T: 104 years. We’ll see you again soon for the blue curaçao episode.
G: Sounds great.
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