What color is the Blue Moon Cocktail?

Quick! What color is the Blue Moon Cocktail?

It’s blue, right? It’s called the Blue Moon.

Yes and no. As it turns out, the original Blue Moon was… red. As first published in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, it was essentially, and gorgeously, a Martini topped with Bordeaux wine. It is a flavor combination that works surprisingly well.

Alas! that this delightful ruby drink became a victim of blue-nosed politics and the evolution of the marketplace. By the time Prohibition ended, the Blue Moon had turned into a blue gin sour. Its appearance and recipe looked more like the Aviation than the Martini. The blue gin sour has been the standard model ever since.

Starting in the 1890s, the blue ingredient of choice was Crème Yvette violet liqueur. In addition to providing the “Blue” of that post-Prohibition Blue Moon, it provided the sky hue for the Aviation, and the blue notes for the Blue Train, the Pousse Cafe, and the Stork Club’s Stratosphere. There was even a dash in Ensslin’s original version of the Blue Moon, though not enough to color the drink—it was there to pull the flavors together.

Crème Yvette ceased production in 1969, and Crème de Violette took its place in cocktail recipes. Blue tinged and floral, it at least provided some of the same flavor notes as the original ingredient.

Then Crème de Violette itself became rare, and finally non-existent, in the U.S. market. There was no proper substitute. Blue Moon recipes appeared with ingredients like blue curaçao. The Blue Moon, in its sour incarnation, was moribund.

Finally, of course, the good news, as the rising interest in classic cocktails and ingredients has made all the difference in the past ten years or so. The first step was the renewed import of Crème de Violette; once again we could make Blue Moons and Aviations that avoided the neon blue curaçao color and returned the violet notes to the palate.

Then, in 2009, the U.S.A. saw the return of the original Creme Yvette, and we were back almost where we started… sort of. Inexplicably, the makers of Crème Yvette decided to abandon the color that made Yvette the de rigeur centerpiece of so many classic azur cocktails. You can have original flavor, but there is no way you can make visual sense of a blue-themed cocktail mixed with Crème Yvette. Pre- or post-Prohibition, your Blue Moon will be red.

The Blue Moon Cocktail, two ways; photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Blue Moon Cocktail, two ways

And so we come full circle to a reconsideration of my favorite recipe of the lot, Ensslin’s luscious, original ruby Blue Moon Cocktail:

The Blue Moon Cocktail
Hugo Ensslin, 1916

  • 2 oz gin (Bombay Dry)
  • 1 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat Dry)
  • 1 dash orange bitters (Fee Bros. Orange Bitters)
  • 1 dash (⅛ tsp) Crème Yvette
  • Claret / Bordeaux wine to top

Stir gin, vermouth, bitters, and liqueur until well chilled. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Top off with Claret.

That one dash of Crème Yvette is pretty subtle, but it is a brilliant addition. I tried this drink without it, and it’s good, but just doesn’t have the same tight blending of the gin and wine flavors. I also tried substituting Crème de Violette; it didn’t seem to make much difference, which indicates that it’s either the added sweetness or the berry fruit overtones in the Crème Yvette that raise the drink from interesting to special.

I used wines that were destined for the evening table, and this drink made a marvelous taste segue between cocktails and dinner. This version of Blue Moon works marvelously well as an aperitif.

(I’m in Minneapolis, which has never seen the first introduction of any new product, so I’m well aware that Crème Yvette is not available everywhere. Even if you live in an Yvette-free zone, I still recommend that you give this Martini-esque version a try—the introduction of cabernet into a Martini was a happy new flavor experience for me, quite a revelation.)

Here’s the more commonly encountered sour version:

The Blue Moon Cocktail (sour)

  • 2 oz gin (Bombay Dry)
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • ¼–½ oz Crème Yvette or Crème de Violette

Shake (stir if using Violette) until well chilled; double strain into cold cocktail glass. Express and garnish with lemon.

This version is a simplified Aviation Cocktail, lacking only the Maraschino.

As noted previously, modern Crème Yvette will make this drink not just red, but more berry-fruity. (In addition to the violets, Yvette infuses blackberry, raspberry, cassis, strawberry, and vanilla.) It is also quite sweet; you may want to cut back here, depending on the sourness of your lemons.

If you go for the blue styling with Crème de Violette, I recommend that you stir and double strain instead of shaking. The bubbles introduced by shaking can cloud the blue color, turning the drink an murky aluminum gray.

Garnish: Chuck Taggart at Gumbo Pages has a great idea for a seasonal garnish—fresh blueberries. I can’t wait for blueberry season, that would add a delightful, summery touch to either the red or the blue presentation.

So: Martini style, or sour? Red or blue? I’m interested to know if I’m the only one who thinks the Ensslin version is actually the superior cocktail. And why did he name a red drink the “Blue Moon”?


19 thoughts on “What color is the Blue Moon Cocktail?

Add yours

  1. Fascinating; I love the sound of the original Blue Moon. But while Creme de Violette is available in the UK, but I don’t think Creme d’Yvette is…

    But when googling for it, I came across an interesting gamble: if you dare taking a chance that a sealed miniature bottle of 1940s properly violet-coloured Creme Yvette has held up, check out eBay auction 390291507515

  2. I am not sure about Creme Yvette, but the Creme de Violettes are artificially colored with a red and a blue dye. What the DudeKicker blog discovered was that the Rothman & Winter and the Bitter Truth (both made by the same Austrian producer) actually use different dyes so the color is different. The color doesn’t come from the flowers; in fact, it’s only a scent extract that is added to sugar, water, booze, and colorants. I am not sure if the Creme Yvette uses anything artificial and it at least seems and tastes more wholesome.

    Pt 1: http://www.dudekicker.com/2011/01/violet-hours.html
    Pt 2: http://www.dudekicker.com/2011/01/cr%C3%A8mes-de-violette.html

    1. Frederic—I don’t know if Yvette contains anything artificial, either. I’ve seen an interview with maker Rob Cooper of Jacquin et Cie, where he makes a point about the product being all natural (sorry, can’t find the link again.) The Creme Yvette website also notes this. It looks to me like Jacquin made a business decision to capitalize on “natural” (whatever that means), rather than duplicate the original purple and carry a label declaring artificial ingredients. I never tasted the original, but if it is true, as some suggest, that the current release has a more “subtle” floral profile, the step away from artificial ingredients might explain that, too.

  3. I’ve been keen to try the new Tempus Fugit Liqueur De Violette, reports have it that it’s less sweet being a liqueur rather than a creme. I love the Gran Classico from Tempus Fugit so I’m optimistic the Violette will be fantastic.

    1. I haven’t encountered the Tempus Fugit Violette, either. If it’s truly less sweet, that would be a welcome addition to the pantry. The only Violette I’ve encountered in my market is the Rothman and Winter, which is pretty sweet and very floral.

  4. I am really confused about this drink. I made a variation of this drink a few weeks ago using leopolds gin and a dark rose (mouton cadet rose bordeaux), and it changed the whole dynamic of this cocktail. I am thinking that perhaps it was meant to be made with a darker rose (traditional claret) as the flavors are really subtle and the color is bluer made with the rose. Just for fun though I tried to make it with the dark red and while the color was red, the drink gets transported to a totally different level.

    also bitter truth just came out with a violette – not sure about it yet.

    1. I agree that the darker reds, the traditional clarets, make a considerable diffrence in putting the Blue Moon across. Ensslin was definitely on to something worthwhile there.

      I haven’t seen the Bitter Truth violette—they don’t seem to have much distribution in my area—but I’ll be watching for it.

  5. Greetings from a fellow Minneapolitan and vintage cocktail fancier! I’m a longtime fan of the Aviation, and feel entitled to brag about having relentlessly nagged Surdyk’s and Bellboy (the distributor) into bringing Luxardo Maraschino to the Twin Cities, back in 2005– also Fee’s Orange Bitters, and Peychaud’s. Hard to believe it, now that those 3 crucial items are in lots of stores here, but at the time I’d bought the last dusty bottle of (Stock) Maraschino in town, at Byerly’s (!), and my experimentation with that made me desperate to get hold of Luxardo’s, which I’d read about in the nascent cocktail blogosphere. Finally, Surdyk’s agreed to take a case– I bought several bottles myself, and kept a surreptitious watch on it every couple of weeks, until suddenly it seemed to really take off, and I’m sure they sell plenty of it these days. The importer (Henry Preiss) sent me a really cool apron as my reward for being a squeaky wheel: it’s a giant Luxardo Maraschino label.

    Bragging over, here’s my real reason for commenting on this post:

    Have you ever tried a Blue Moon with Marie Brizard’s Parfait Amour? I bought mine long before any of the violettes re-appeared on the scene. I really like it– hard to describe the flavor, but it’s supposedly got orange in it (I don’t get that), as well as violet and vanilla. The result makes me think of a really sophisticated gumball, which I find delish! The color is wonderful– more purple than the creme de v., and great in a Blue Moon as I make it (your “sour” version above). Try to forget I said “gumball,” and give it a try. They carry it at Surdyk’s.

    1. So, Maria, it’s you we have to thank for kickstarting our local supply of Maraschino and Peychaud’s—thank you for that! Life certainly got easier when I no longer had to make serious road trips just to lay in basic supplies.

      (It’s valuable, I suppose, to reflect on those days when what I regard as simple basics were so difficult to come by. I still get surprised and delighted to run across products I’ve read of but didn’t expect to see in my market, and suddenly a new list of cocktails becomes possible that previously were only “interesting” —real cocktails versus abstract cocktails, if you will. It’s a good reminder that some, perhaps, many of the readers of this and other blogs may be in the same boat—big town or small, liquor stores with limited, non-cocktailian inventories still seem to be the norm.)

      Back to the question at hand: no, it never occurred to me to try Parfait Amour in Blue Moon. I’m trying to think in positive terms about the idea of a “sophisticated gumball” … can you really have such a thing? I guess I’ll have to find out one day. That’s one thing about cocktails—there’s always another one that can surprise you.

      By the way, I’d love to know what cocktail motivated you to push for Maraschino in this market?

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  7. This discussion has gone on rather a lot. Someone finally posted a picture on Flickr of a bottle of vintage Creme Yvette. It turns out it had artificial colorings and a much more pronounced violet color. The resurrected version lacks the extra color (which most Creme de Violets also contain) and so is dominated by the red tones of the berries.

    The cocktail made with the real vintage Yvette would certainly be more blue.

    Creme Yvette

    1. I’ve never talked directly with the makers of the new Crème Yvette, but the story goes that they specifically abjured the use of artificial colorings. Just between you and me, I think they chose poorly. I’d say the original violet color was much to be preferred, but it looks like we’re stuck with the red, alas!

      1. Agreed. It seems they feel there is more ground to be gained with the “natural” crowd than with the vintage cocktail crowd. Who would like their Blue Moons blue, TYVM. Since the consensus in the cocktail crowd is that a more purple tint would be more desirable.

        Of course, since it’s currently not available in Fly-Over Country, from my perspective it’s moot, anyway. :-) Luckily we do have a local bar that specialized in vintage cocktails and can mix a mean Aviation. Possibly I’ll play “stump the bartender” next time and ask for a Submarine Kiss.

  8. Pingback: Blue Moon |

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