Blue sky, blue water, Blue Whales
CANANDAIGUA — Nick Tahou’s in Rochester has the Garbage Plate, and arguably the comes-with-most-everything dish is a regional favorite with a growing reputation around the country.
The Sand Bar in Canandaigua is hoping its Blue Whale achieves similar status, and judging by the following statistic, the colorful beverage may be on its way.
According to Kevin Kenyon, a Geneva native who is director of food and beverage at the newly opened Lake House on Canandaigua, the Sand Bar served 1,913 Blue Whales in July, the first month in which the popular lakeside destination reopened.
That works out to just over 477 drinks a week — so no one is singing the blues this summer, just drinking them.
“I think it will become, if it hasn’t already, just one thing to check off when you’re in the Finger Lakes,” Kenyon said.
Whether it’s the Sand Bar’s reopening — or maybe the coronavirus pandemic is driving folks to drink — the Blue Whale seems to be having a renewed life on Canandaigua Lake.
Many places — on the lake or off — have their own versions, while others are trying to come up with their own spin on the lake legend. Even Star Cider in Canandaigua is getting in on the act by developing a Blue Whale seltzer, which co-owner Cortni Stahl notes is the cidery’s take on a very popular favorite local cocktail.
“We spun that and made a cider seltzer out of that,” said Stahl, and Star Cider’s Blue Whale slushy has been a refreshing drink during a very hot summer.
“People love it,” Stahl said.
The Blue Whale, however, has been popular for some time. Many lake dwellers and visitors lost their sea legs on the Blue Whales served up back in the day at the one-time lakeside landmark Thendara and its Boat House.
The Inn on the Lake — the precursor to The Lake House on Canandaigua — also served as a go-to spot for the drink, which to many, is a perfect companion to time spent plopped in an Adirondack chair and watching the waves, the birds, the people, the boats or just the clouds floating above Canandaigua Lake.
The reimagined Sand Bar’s version is different than the one previously enjoyed, with a recipe developed by Donny Clutterbuck, a classic cocktail maker at Cure in Rochester who came up with the Sand Bar’s initial cocktail list and the list at the soon-to-open Rose Tavern and Library Bar on the hotel campus.
Instead of vodka, the new Blue Whale is made with a not-so overpowering Real McCoy white rum with a good palette and nice sweetness, Kenyon said. A house sour mix made with fresh lemon and lime juice replaces the former fave’s lemonade, with “a touch more” sugar to balance out the bitterness of the juices.
While other places may use powdered or premade sour mixes, it’s all fresh juices and garnishes at the Sand Bar, whether a Blue Whale or another beverage.
Add pineapple juice and, don’t forget, the blue curacao liqueur that gives the drink its distinctive color. And pro tip for those trying to replicate the drink at home, “don’t cheap out on the blue curacao,” Kenyon said.
You just may end up with something that more resembles a blue guppy and tastes worse.
“When they say you should use a decent bottle of wine to cook with, you should also use a decent bottle of liqueur” to mix drinks with, Kenyon said.
With all the ingredients present, a key next step is to shake the mixture and pour it over ice in a highball glass, Kenyon said.
“Now, it’s more of a refined cocktail,” Kenyon said.
There is no contest in comparing the vodka version and the rum version — the rum version knocks it out of the proverbial water, with the vodka version simply missing a flavor element added by the rum, Clutterbuck said in an email.
“The appeal of the Blue Whale is that, when properly made, it’s nearly undislikable, and it’s surely easy on the eyes. It’s flavorful enough to be sippable, juicy enough to be crushable, and dynamic enough that those looking for flavor will find it, but those looking for something a bit more innocuous won’t be off-put," Clutterbuck said. "It truly is a drink for everyone. Some might be proud to drink it, and others embarrassed, but most will enjoy it.”
Kenyon suggests the oyster po’boy, with Crystal Hot Sauce, to complement the drink. They make a great southern pair and really get you in a New Orleans and Caribbean state of mind.
Think water. Think warmth. Think why on Earth are you holed up in your home office, squirming through a Zoom meeting?
“This is the best of both worlds,” Kenyon said.
Every guest at The Lake House on Canandaigua receives a welcome beverage — now it’s a sparkling wine — and Kenyon is hopeful that next season, the Blue Whale serves that purpose as well as helps to create a sense of place.
“We want things that remind you of glorious, summer days,” Kenyon said.
In fact, Bill Caleo, a member of the Sands family and a co-developer of the Lake House project, has been inviting one and all seemingly since day one to come down and have a Blue Whale.
“To feel like you’re in paradise for a minute,” Caleo said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the hotel earlier this month. “To feel happy, reflective, blissful.”
Blue skies and blue waters are made for Blue Whales, especially for visitors made to feel like they’re staying at a friend’s luxurious lake home.
“This is what we’re known for, this is what we do well, and this is what we want you to remember about us,” Kenyon said.