A dry martini doesn’t hit the same in Hawaii. Or an Old Fashioned. The crisp freshness of a mojito is not bad. And when you’re at a bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the warm breeze flowing through your hair, a Mai Tai is close to perfection. But it’s hard to beat the blue-colored Hawaiian drink, the iconic Blue Hawaii.
This legendary cocktail’s almost synonymous with the Aloha State, offering a taste of the tropics since the 1950s. Let’s dive into its history and recipes from five Hawaii bars so you can transport yourself back to these islands whenever you’d like.
But First, What Is the Blue Hawaiian Drink?
A Blue Hawaii is a tropical cocktail that contains white rum, pineapple juice (fresh is best), sweet and sour mix (a syrup typically made using lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and water), and a bitter-orange-flavored liqueur called curacao that gives the drink its bright ocean-colored hue. This famous blue Hawaiian drink can also contain vodka but is optional.
A Blue Hawaii is often served on the rocks. You can also request a frozen one blended with a cup of crushed ice. As for the garnish, you’ll usually find a wedge of pineapple on the edge of the glass, accompanied by a maraschino cherry, one of their Hawaiian flowers, and the all-important tiny cocktail umbrella.
Having said all that, we could have answered the question of what the drink is in a single word: delicious.
The Blue Hawaii cocktail has the sweetness of the pineapple, balanced beautifully by the tartness of the sour mix, with bitter-orange undertones courtesy of the curacao.
It’s quite a strong cocktail, especially when you include vodka. Yet it isn’t overpowering, thanks to intense tropical flavors. So you may not taste the power of all the alcohol.
Like Hawaiian food, this drink is another symbol of how Hawaii's physical location is not just a geographical meeting point between Asia Pacific and The Americas, but so are its modern-day culinary offerings. For visitors seeking a quintessential tropical experience – at least as it’s sold on postcards and TV screens – this blue Hawaiian drink symbolizes everything they’re looking for.
The History of the Blue Hawaiian Drink
The Blue Hawaii drink is a staple on Hawaiian bar menus these days. But rewind 70 years, and it didn’t exist. Back then, tourism had just started to take hold. World War II wasn’t that long ago, and Americans started flocking there to experience what the servicemen returning from the South Pacific had been gushing about. During this time, Harry Yee, a local of Chinese descent, was a bartender at The Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.
The tourists pouring into town wanted a taste of tropical Hawaii and often asked for a local cocktail. Yee had nothing to offer; the best he could do was mix a Mai Tai. As fate would have it, though, a salesman for the Dutch liquor company Bols came to ask if he could create a drink using the liqueur they were promoting at the time: Blue Curacao. The rest, as they say, is history.
Yee named his creation the “Blue Hawaii,” and the concoction became an instant hit. Contrary to popular belief, Yee didn’t take the name from the eponymous Elvis Presley movie. Instead, he borrowed it from a Bing Crosby film called Waikiki Wedding, where the song “Blue Hawaii” plays.
Yee’s notoriety as a mixologist only continued from there. He invented 15 more cocktails, including the Hawaiian Eye and Naughty Hula.
We can’t forget his historic garnishes for this Blue Hawaiian drink. A vanda orchid replaced a stalk of sugarcane in each drink because it didn’t leave a sticky residue on the empty glasses. And you know those tiny paper parasols you see decorating drinks everywhere nowadays? According to tiki drink historian Jeff Berry, Yee is the first to put these China-manufactured mini-umbrellas in a cocktail.
The Blue Hawaii vs. The Blue Hawaiian Cocktail
People commonly refer to Blue Hawaii cocktails as “Blue Hawaiians.” And you can’t blame them. After all, they’re both blue Hawaiian drinks that derive their hue from blue curacao! Yet they’re not the same.
The difference? The Blue Hawaii contains sour mix, while the Blue Hawaiian uses Crème de Coconut.
A simple way to tell the difference on a bar menu is by looking for any coconut-based recipe ingredients. If you spot one (including coconut rum), you’re drinking a Blue Hawaiian. It will still be delicious, it just won’t be the original cocktail created by Harry Yee.
5 Blue Hawaiian Recipes From Bars in Hawaii
Here are five Blue Hawaiian recipes whether you want to bar hop on your next vacation to the Hawaiian Islands or are looking for different versions to make at home.
1. Harry Yee’s 1957 Original Blue Hawaii Recipe
If you want to step back in time to see how an original Blue Hawaii would have tasted if the legend himself had made it for you, then this is the recipe. According to Yee, if it doesn’t contain vodka, it’s incorrect.
Take a 12-ounce glass and fill it with ice, pour in 3oz of fresh pineapple juice, then add (in this order):
- 1oz of sweet and sour mix
- 1/2oz of Blue Curacao (preferably Bols)
- 3/4oz of vodka
- 3/4oz of Puerto Rican light rum
Once added to the glass, stir the ingredients together gently to mix. To finish, garnish your blue Hawaiian drink with a slice of pineapple and an orchid. Serve your Blue Hawaii in a tall glass with a piece of pineapple and a cherry, frozen or on the rocks.
“The Blue Hawaii is our second most popular cocktail on property, slightly behind the Mai Tai. Its popularity is driven by its dual association with Elvis and the Hilton Hawaiian Village,” said Nick Kabetso, Director of Food and Beverage Hilton Hawaiian Village. “It’s a bright blue drink that is fruit-forward, refreshing, and easy to drink, so you typically always come back for a second.”
2. Royal Lahaina Resort’s Pineapple Blue Hawaiian
The Royal Lahaina Resort & Bungalows is an iconic and historic place on the same stretch of beach where Hawaiian royalty vacationed. This locally owned, independent resort boasts a traditional Hawaiian ambiance and offers five-star service – all with a room rate that’s far more affordable than other hotels.
If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself there and fancy a blue Hawaiian drink, ask the bartender to make their Blue Hawaiian. It’s not on the menu, but they’ll make one upon request from the following recipe:
Take a glass/cocktail shaker and add the following:
- 3oz white rum
- 2oz Blue Curacao liqueur
- 2oz coconut cream
- 4oz pineapple juice
- 1 cup of ice
Mix well and serve in a freshly cut Maui Gold Pineapple. For the garnish, add a parasol and maraschino cherry.
3. Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s Modern Take on a Blue Hawaii
Since Harry Yee debuted his blue Hawaiian drink all those years ago, several adaptations have been made from the original recipe. One of the best comes from Maui’s beloved Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, which recently unveiled a $75 million property-wide renovation and brand-new oceanfront restaurant called Huihui.
Themed around the ancient tradition of Hawaiian wayfaring, Huihui takes guests on an exploration of modern Hawaiian cuisine and has been recognized as one of Hawaii's top five new restaurants. Their brand-new cocktail menu is available as of June 2023. Sneak peeks include an Old Fashioned with Māmaki Tea, a Mojito with lilikoi syrup, and a delicious take on the Blue Hawaiian.
They call it “The Navigator,” made of Fid Street Gin (from the Hāli‘imaile Distillery), Blue Curacao, Ali‘i Kula Lavender reduction spray, Maui Bees Honey, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and tonic water.
4. Sheraton Maui’s Take on a Blue Hawaii
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa offers two cocktails inspired by Harry Yee’s original recipe. The first is a traditional Blue Hawaii on their current pool bar menu, consisting of rum, pineapple juice, and Blue Curacao.
However, in celebration of their 60th anniversary starting June 2023, they’ve also created a “Surf’s Up” cocktail, which deliciously deviates from traditional ingredients. This one boasts colors reminiscent of the blue hues blanketing the shores of Ka’anapali Beach, which front the resort. It combines Casamigos Blanco Tequila, Blue Curacao, Peach Schnapps, fresh pineapple, and lime, which get muddled and strained into a glass.
5. The LineUp’s Wai Tai
Can’t decide between a Blue Hawaii or a Mai Tai? Head down to Oahu's Ewa Beach and grab a table at The Lookout Food & Drink, which is the bar, restaurant, and social center of The LineUp at Wai Kai.
They offer a “Wai Tai” containing ingredients and flavors from both classic tropical cocktails. Blue Curacao liqueur tops off a mix of orgeat syrup, lime juice, pineapple juice, 1.5oz of Kuleana Rum Works Huihui, and 1/4oz of Kuleana Rum Works Nanea.
Serve a Blue Hawaiian Drink at Home With a Side of Aloha
Celebrities and tourists have drunk and celebrated this beautiful alcoholic beverage for almost seven decades.
Yee served notable guests at the resort and beyond during his storied career. Celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Joan Crawford, and others experienced Yee’s skillful bartending and hospitality. Yet his success behind the bar was matched with humility and a display of the aloha spirit to all he came into contact with.
“Harry Yee’s impact on Hilton Hawaiian Village and cocktail culture at large cannot be overstated,” said Debi Bishop, managing director of Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. “Though his accomplishments are many, Harry was always humble, often refusing to place himself in the limelight.”
“He brought joy to many who visited Hawaii’s shores through his craft, and he will be deeply missed by our team at the hotel,” Bishop remarked upon his death in 2022 at 104 years old.
So as you toast with one at home or on vacation, remember one of Harry Yee’s wise mantras: “Everything in moderation.”