Hawaii was on fire in the early 1960s. And not just from volcanoes. It had become a state in 1959, the 50th to join the US. Then Elvis Presley made a hit movie called “Blue Hawaii” in 1961 — just as a cocktail of the same name was gaining popularity.
These events combined to generate a burst of interest in the Hawaiian islands, at the same time that jet travel was making them accessible to mainlanders. The Elvis movie in particular highlighted the beauty and fun available in what was (for most people) still an exotic part of the world. It also didn’t hurt that Tiki restaurants — very popular at the time — were drawing attention to Polynesia, the ultimate source of Hawaiian culture. No wonder Hawaii became such a popular vacation choice (and has remained one ever since).
But even if you can’t jet off to Honolulu, you can still enjoy a taste of tropical paradise with this blue-hued drink. Mix up a round and let your imagination set the scene: pristine beaches, cloudless skies, sighing surf. Elvis bobblehead optional.
Recipe: The Blue Hawaii Cocktail
Many people assume the Blue Hawaii Cocktail got its name from the Elvis movie. In fact, however, the drink preceded that movie’s release; it was created in 1957 by Harry Yee, a bartender at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
The drink did have a Presley connection — just not the obvious one. Yee actually named his cocktail after a 1937 song that Bing Crosby made famous in the film “Waikiki Wedding.” Years later, Elvis sang the same song in his film — and it gave its name to his movie.
So it’s complicated. But the name confusion doesn’t stop there. Because there are in fact two different blue cocktails with almost identical names: The Blue Hawaii Cocktail, and the Blue Hawaiian Cocktail. What’s the difference between them? Well, the Blue Hawaiian always contains cream of coconut (Coco Lopez) and is usually served frozen (whirled in a blender with ice). The Blue Hawaii is never frozen (it’s served over ice) and usually doesn’t contain coconut flavoring (though this does sneak into some recipes — more on that in the Notes).
This brings us to yet another source of confusion: the multitude of different recipes you’ll find for the Blue Hawaii. Well, don’t let all that confusion put you off. I’ve tested many of the Blue Hawaii recipe variations, so you don’t have to. My favorite? The one that Jeff Berry — aka Beachbum Berry — champions in Beachbum Berry Remixed. In the Notes, I discuss a couple of other recipes in case you’d like to try them (including one for the Blue Hawaiian).
This recipe serves one, and takes a few minutes to prepare.
- 1½ ounces vodka (can substitute light rum; see Notes)
- ¾ ounce blue curaçao (see Notes)
- 2 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice (I buy this juice in little cans since I use it only to make cocktails)
- ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ ounce simple syrup (optional; try the drink without first — if you find it too sour, then add the syrup)
- ½ teaspoon cream (not traditional, but excellent; see Notes)
- garnish of pineapple spear or wedge and maraschino cherry (optional but fun)
- Combine all ingredients (except the garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake until the drink is nicely chilled (10 to 20 seconds, depending on how vigorously you shake; the shaker will be frosted when the drink is cold).
- Strain into an ice-filled tall glass (such as a Collins or hurricane glass) or a double rocks glass (traditional for this drink, although I prefer a tall glass). Garnish with the pineapple and cherry, and serve.
- You can use either vodka or light rum in this drink (the original recipe contained both, as discussed below). I’m not generally fond of vodka in cocktails, but I prefer it in this particular drink. You might feel otherwise.
- Curaçao is orange-flavored liqueur. Most varieties are either colorless or amber-hued (like Grand Marnier, which is a premium curaçao). Blue curaçao, which was invented by the Dutch distiller Bols, gets its color from dye.
- The Blue Hawaii Cocktail was created at the request of a Bols sales representative, who asked Harry Yee to invent a drink using blue curaçao (Bols was trying to boost sales of the liqueur, and needed to showcase some drinks that used it). Yee experimented with several variations of the Blue Hawaii, finally settling on a mix of ¾ ounce light rum, ¾ ounce vodka, ½ ounce blue curaçao, 3 ounces pineapple juice, and 1 ounce of sweet-and-sour mix.
- This original recipe wasn’t bad — but it’s better if you reduce the pineapple juice to 2 ounces. And use real citrus rather than sweet-and-sour mix (which is vile); just substitute 2 parts lemon juice to 1 part simple syrup.
- Even better than the original, IMO, is a recipe from The Internet Cocktail Database that uses lime instead of lemon. This recipe calls for 2 ounces vodka, 1½ ounces blue curacao, 2 ounces fresh lime juice, and a float of ½ ounce Galliano. You can lose the Galliano if you want — it’s pleasant enough, but not really necessary.
- People who like coconut flavor in the Blue Hawaii sometimes use coconut-flavored rum. If the idea appeals to you, Barb at Creative Culinary has a recipe that’s interesting.
- And if you fancy a frozen drink, try the Blue Hawaiian: 1 ounce light rum, 1 ounce blue curaçao, 1 ounce Coco Lopez, and 2 ounces pineapple juice. Add all these to a blender, along with a cup of cracked ice, and whirl until you have a nice slushy mix.
- Beachbum Berry’s recipe for the Blue Hawaii (the one featured in this post) uses a touch of cream. It provides some of the same mouth-feel as coconut cream, but without the heavy flavor. His recipe tastes fine without the cream, but adding just that little touch improves the drink considerably. The Bum knows his stuff.
Tiki Month, from the Top
“Gosh, Tiki month has been fun!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, taking a sip of her Blue Hawaii. “I’ll be sorry to see it go.”
“Me too,” I said. “We made a lot of great dishes for the Pupu Platter. That Crab Rangoon was wonderful! And I loved the color of the Grilled Pineapple.”
“Don’t forget Candied Bacon,” said Mrs K R. “That’s my favorite platter item. Although I have to admit that Shrimp Toast Dip was pretty good too, especially in those little cucumber boats.”
“And all those great Tiki-style cocktails we featured — like this one,” I said, holding up my Blue Hawaii. “This is right up there with the Hula Hula.”
“My favorite Tiki drink from this month was the Scorpion,” said Mrs K R. “Though it’s hard to beat the flaming presentation on the Volcano Bowl.”
“Yeah, it’s all been fun,” I agreed. “And though Tiki month is coming to a close, we still have one more drink to go in our Summer Sippin’ Series — which this year extends to the Wednesday after Labor Day.”
“And what drink would that be?” asked Mrs K R.
“Well,” I said, “since we honored the 50th state with the Blue Hawaii, I thought it would be only fair to do the same for the 49th state. So we’ll be doing The Alaska Cocktail.”
“Perfect,” said Mrs K R. “I wouldn’t mind a harbinger of cooler weather. And we had a great time when we visited Alaska a couple years back. Remember the lumberjack show and the great totem poles? Not to mention bald eagles and whales and sea otters!”
Ah yes, I do recall. It was far from the tropics, but still a vacation paradise. Wonder where I can get a lumberjack bobblehead.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Hula Hula Cocktail
Volcano Bowl Cocktail
Shrimp Toast Dip
Or check out the index for more recipes