from left, the bao chicka bao wow at the bao, queen frostine at retreat gastropub and tom collinsville at old herald photo by izaiah johnson

STL bartenders use butterfly pea flower to dye drinks purple

St. Louis bartenders have fallen for the showstopping hue of butterfly pea flower as an alternative to scary artificial pigmentation in cocktails. Indigenous to Asia, the plant is commonly used as an ingredient in herbal teas and as a deep blue food coloring.

Several area bars are using the intriguing ingredient to brighten up their spring menus. The Bao beverage manager Kira Webster infuses Plantation 3 Star rum with pea flower to make a vibrant base for the Bao Chicka Bao Wow.

“There’s a slight taste change, but it’s very subtle,” Webster said. Any extraneous flavor completely dissipates when the rum is mixed with Contratto bitters, lemon and coconut agave to complete the cocktail.

At Retreat Gastropub, butterfly pea flower enhances the Queen Frostine, a combination of Plantation Dark rum, persimmon syrup, coconut syrup, orange crema, orgeat, lime and a float of Rum Fire infused with dried pea flower. Co-owner and beverage director Tim Wiggins said the resulting color augments the subtle blueberry notes in the rum, giving drinkers a clue to its flavor.

house gin and tonic at the monacle // photo by izaiah johnson

Tom Halaska, who co-created the beverage program at The Monocle, employs pea flower in a similar fashion. He makes an extract and uses it to top the house Gin and Tonic, made with 1220 Artisan Spirits Origin gin and Top Hat Provisions East Indian Tonic, served on tap and garnished with a dried orange slice. 

Halaska said the color and garnish give the otherwise clear cocktail some visual taste cues. “I think the color really helps enhance the flavor of the drink,” he said. He keeps the extract on hand for customers who want a splash of color in other drinks.

Old Herald Brewery & Distillery uses pea flower to create an interactive experience for guests. Bar program manager Greg Schweickert uses pea flower simple syrup in the gin-based Tom Collinsville and the Developing Story, made with vodka. 

Both cocktails come served in two parts – an iced Collins glass with just the syrup, and a smaller glass with the shaken spirit, fresh lemon juice and soda water. The guest combines the two and gets a show as the blue syrup turns vibrant purple due to the change in pH.

Local distillery 1220 Artisan Spirits also takes advantage of that color-changing trick with its new Spring Gin. The spirit features notes of lemon and lavender, along with a deep blue color from butterfly pea flower that changes when mixed with tonic or citrus.

In the beverage world, presentation is paramount, and pea flower is attracting attention.

Matt Sorrell is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

Tags : Cocktails, Places, Bars