In Defense of the Blue Drink

Grown-up cocktails are overrated—bring on the dye.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton

The OG Khmer Cooler from Sunshine Noodles

Image: Michael Novak

I have a proposal: let’s make the blue drink the official cocktail of 2022. Call it the New Portland—out with the muted, in with the neon—because confidently sipping a sugary drink that resembles dishwasher detergent, Windex, or chlorinated pool water is good practice for taking yourself less seriously and learning to proudly own the cheesy things you love, be it Michelle Branch karaoke songs or Top Gun: Maverick. Or call it the Old Portland: blue drinks pack a punch of nostalgia, reminding me of my childhood soccer team days guzzling Cool Blue Gatorade or slurping blue raspberry Icees at the movies. In short: blue drinks, united on the color spectrum by the key ingredient of blue curaçao, might lack the complex depth of fat-washed bourbon or the elbow grease of a Ramos Gin Fizz, but sometimes life’s greatest pleasures are also the simplest.

So where to find these liquid sapphires, these gems of neon and nostalgia? Your nearest tiki bar is likely your best bet: it’s no surprise that Portland classic The Alibi (4024 N Interstate Ave), open nearly 75 years, offers not one but two blue drinks on its menu. The Vicious Virgin no. 2 is a turquoise number blending tequila and rum, plus a little orgeat for creaminess—tangy and spirit-forward, shaken with ice and strained into a coupe to make you feel like a grown up. The Shark Attack is its polar opposite, a more-is-more blend of Portland Vodka, rum, curaçao, and pineapple that’s ceremoniously bloodied with a swirl of grenadine, garnished with toothpick-skewered blue and red shark gummies. Over time, the drink changes color from a blue-red gradient to a mellow purple. 

The Portland Swizzle

But blue drinks are for Harley-loving bikers, too. At motorcycle-themed bar The Midnight (3341 SE Belmont St), the Portland Swizzle combines super-botanical Seattle-made Big Gin and Accompani’s Portland-made Flora Green liqueur infusing lemon balm and spearmint. The curaçao gets layered on top of this chartreuse-colored concoction, so some sips are boozy while others are citrusy and sweet.

And sometimes, blue drinks pop up where you least expect them. Along with plates of lime-pepper wings and Cambodian-influenced spaghetti at Sunshine Noodles (2175 NW Raleigh St), I ordered the OG Khmer Cooler, described as a lemongrass fruit punch with vodka. I expected a cheery and orange-hued libation to emerge. Instead, a bright turquoise number arrived in a classy glass, simply garnished with a slice of lemon, tropical but not too sweet.

So let’s hear it for the blue drink, the liquid embodiment of DGAF. “People aren’t ashamed to drink what they like anymore,” says Michelle Ruocco, a bartender at Jackie’s (930 SE Sandy Blvd). Does blue curaçao actually taste much different from its clear counterpart, you may ask? No, it does not. But can you deny that the iridescent blue dye sparks joy? Seems unlikely. The blues are back, and they’re about as nonpretentious, ’80s-meets-now, cheer-bringing as you can get. Maverick would be proud.

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