Color-Changing Tequila Makes For Magically Festive Cocktails

Champagne often comes to mind for festive occasions or celebrating good times with friends new and old. But it's unlikely that your glass of Champagne will magically change colors before your very eyes. For that, you'll need the power of butterfly pea flowers, which have likely traveled a long way to jazz up your color-evolving blue cocktail. Native to Africa and Southeast Asia, the Clitoria ternatea plant and its flowers, more charmingly known as the butterfly pea or Asian pigeonwings, harbor natural elements that bathe your drink in bright color, which can change depending on what else you dash into it. The flower's petals are universally known to change color when steeped as tea, but now there's a way to pour it straight from a bottle of tequila. 

Rick Hewitt, founder of the Seattle-based, family-owned, small-batch Unicorn Distillery, created tequila (and vodka) that is cobalt blue, the result of having been steeped in butterfly pea flowers. He tells Tasting Table that the flowers naturally produce flavonoids called anthocyanins, which alter their structure — and color – in response to changes in pH. "The drinker can then add a few drops of citrus or soda water to make the Unicorn tequila change purple, and if the drinker mixes tonic, lemonade, ginger beer, or just a full squeeze of lime juice, they can turn our spirits pink." The festive colors are a main draw, but what does butterfly pea flower tequila actually taste like? It's generally defined in the context of fruity and floral, but that can vary widely, depending on infusions and how it's distilled.

Color change happens with a splash

The Butterfly Cannon also offers a color-changing tequila made with butterfly pea flowers, and they infuse it with prickly pear and clementine. This creates what the Mexican distillery describes as "a fresh citrus nose" that has "a crisp agave undertone" and finishes of five different fruits, including strawberry and honeydew melon. But the process of creating a butterfly pea flower tequila can have a big impact as well. 

Rick Hewitt explains that Unicorn's butterfly pea tequila is distilled in alambic Armagnacais stills, a style dating back to 1818. "Because the blue Weber agave wine gets constantly fed into the still in a specific way, it allows the tequila to retain its earthy and fruity flavors." The vapor rises through a column of bubble plates mounted atop the still, which imparts the agave flavor deep into the finished spirit. Then, the tequila gets a butterfly pea infusion and some very soft water from Washington State's Cedar River, resulting in a smooth floral finish and sweet citrus flavor profile. 

Buying color-changing tequila already bottled is an easy way to get the festivities going, but with some extra effort and inclination, it's also possible to bubble and brew your own magic cocktail potion using butterfly pea flowers, powders, or extracts that can be ordered online. The color-changing attributes are most pronounced when the spirit is mixed with citrus and fizzy liquids, but that doesn't mean you're limited to basic cocktails — far from it. Butterfly pea tequila thrives in classic tequila cocktail recipes, including margaritas, palomas, sunrises, Mexican mules, and many others.