I’ll never forget the first time I visited Mexico City. I was a kid and it was in the ’80s. We tried frog legs and turtle soup for the first time and whenever my dad ordered a drink, the waiter set it on fire. Remember that fad? It’s back.
Saveur magazine declared the flambé cocktail a redux trend in its annual 100 issue. And on a recent ski getaway to Whistler, BC, we spotted the lads behind the bar at dining it-spot Bearfoot Bistro putting a match to glass after glass (not to mention conjuring a cloud of tableside liquid nitrogen ice cream).
Though Justin Taylor, head bartender just south of Whistler at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver’s YEW seafood + bar, reminds us that the ’80s trend goes much farther back: “The Godfather of bartending, Jerry Thomas, is synonymously linked to the Blue Blazer Cocktail: a reckless drink from about 1862 that was made to relieve cold or flu symptoms. It was essentially a Hot Toddy, poured back and forth between two silver mugs while set on fire, that could withstand the heat. The drink was ready once the fire went out. Unfortunately, with flaming drinks like that, we lose all the alcohol that may cure you.”
Taylor says he and other mixologists nowadays (including Sommelier Rob Davis at Four Seasons Hotel Denver’s EDGE Bar), are bringing fiery drinks back to the forefront—but with purpose, not just flair.
He calls the 1980s a low point in cocktail culture, when it was all about show at the expense of taste. Neon clothes were in, and the drinks were just as loud. But in 2013, it’s about style and taste. “An Absinthe rinse to a cocktail glass that has been set on fire before the cocktail enters the glass can completely change the aroma and subtle flavours to a great mixed drink,” Taylor says. “A layer of high-proof alcohol on top of a cocktail that is sprinkled with herbs and spices can add a fire show for an audience, but can take a drink to new taste levels previously unexplored.”
The Devil’s Advocate
From Justin Taylor, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver,YEW seafood + bar
0.25 oz La Fee’s Absinthe
1.75 oz Remy VSOP
0.5 oz Aperol
0.5 oz Punt es Mes
0.25 oz Cassis
3 dashes of Bittered Sling Denman Bitters (Angostura will substitute)
Oil of 3 lemon twists
1. Into a cocktail glass, pour 0.25 oz of La Fee’s Absinthe and let stand.
2. Stir all remaining ingredients together in a mixing glass.
3. Set the absinthe ablaze by first rolling it around the cocktail glass and hitting it with a small flame. Once the glass is engulfed in flames, slowly pour the cocktail through the fire to extinguish the flame. The cocktail will have a beautiful smoky finish, strong anise aromas, and velvety chocolate and cherry textures.
From Justin Taylor, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver ,YEW Restaurant + Bar
This is a play on the classic Brazilian drink the Ciaprinha.
2.0 oz Cacacha
1.0 oz cane sugar syrup
3 dashes Bittered Sling Lem Marekesh Bitters (lemon bitters will work)
0.5 Aperol or Campari
151 proof rum
Cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg to garnish
1. Fill an Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice.
2. Muddle one whole lime cut in quarters. Add Cacacha, cane sugar syrup and bitters. Pour the mixture over the crushed ice and drizzle with a half ounce of Aperol or Campari.
3. On top of the drink, fill a spent lime shell with 151-proof rum and dust it with cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg. Set on fire. The aromas and flames will be sure to get a crowd growing, and you’ll be making these all night long.
Try Justin Taylor’s Blue Blazer – watch below!
The Flaming 14er Margarita
From Rob Davis at Four Seasons Hotel Denver, EDGE Bar
This is our most popular drink with flair. We’ve added an orange raft with Ever Clear and Grand Marnier. The drink can be served straight or flaming—pun intended.
2¾ oz Patron Silver Tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz house-made blood orange and bay leaf simple syrup
½ oz Everclear
½ oz Grand Marnier
1. Combine all ingredients, add ice, shake and strain into a glass, rim dipped in salt. Add the raft on top—light if you dare!
–Michelle Pentz Glave
Images courtesy of Shingo Kido at Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver.