Flames and alcohol might not seem like a smart combination, but fire can enhance a cocktail in the hands of a talented bartender. Some may be familiar with flickering spectacles such as a digestivo of lit Sambuca and coffee beans or the Flaming B-52, but the first documentation of a fiery cocktail actually dates back to the 1860s. The description of a Blue Blazer can be found in Jerry Thomas’ highly-regarded 1862 tome, Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks. Made with scotch, sugar, lemon peel, and boiling water, it varied from a typical toddy in its execution of igniting the liquid and passing it multiples times in a showy arc between two silver-plated mugs. Professor Thomas included this sage advice, “the novice in mixing this beverage should be careful not to scald himself.” Less dangerous, and more common, are flamed zests to garnish a libation. This technique involves folding a disk of lemon, orange, or grapefruit peel and expressing a spark of oil through the flame of a match onto the surface of the drink. Not just a simple party trick, the embellishment adds a subtle caramelized citrus-bitters flavor. This showmanship is also part of a 1963 cocktail created for Dean Martin called the Flame of Love, a vodka martini with a sherry rinse and flamed orange peel. Lore has it that when Dean introduced it to Frank Sinatra, he liked it so much that he enthusiastically bought the whole bar a round. Another use is to flame a rinse, such as in a Sazerac. Toasting the absinthe as the glass is coated adds a smoky depth to this classic New Orleans cocktail.
Needless, to say, flaming may be something best left to the professionals. I miss the fabulous Blue Blazer Kris Korf had perfected at Citizen R + D (now closed). However, visit EVO in Oldtown Scottsdale, where Dominic will skillfully mix up a Sazerac with a flamed absinthe rinse, as shown in these photos.