“There is more to flaming cocktails than the lure of fire,” says Thomas Iacorone, head bartender at Palmer & Co. “True, in many cases it’s just an elaborate garnish aimed at dazzling the eye,” he concedes, sliding a glass of opaque liquid across the polished marble bar. “But fire can transform the flavour and mouth-feel of a spirit substantially,” he continues, shifting his attention to the lighter in his left hand and sparking it to life. [fold]
“The evaporation of alcohol condenses flavours and caramelises surface sugars. The temperature also alters the overall taste and texture of the cocktail.” Iacorone is now casting a yawning shadow over the bar as he leans closer towards the glass. “The flame actually draws out aromas and disperses them in the air.” He lowers the orange flame into the shadow and rests it on the surface of the alcohol. In a moment, the familiar warmth of the lighter’s flame is swallowed by a ghostly eruption of translucent blue fire.
The generic term ‘Blazer’ is drawn from the title of a cocktail fashioned in the mid-1800s by the well-known bartender and magnificently moustachioed Jerry Thomas, after an imposing patron approached the bar and brashly requested “some hellfire that’ll shake me right down to my gizzard”. A resourceful fellow, Thomas obliged and invented what is said to be the world’s first flaming cocktail in the process, The Blue Blazer.
Like The Blue Blazer, most alcohol will burn a faint, almost invisible blue, according to Alex Francis from The Little Guy bar in Glebe. “Adding things like potassium chloride and salt can create yellow, green or even violet coloured fire,” he says. Technically, any cocktail with a high enough percentage of alcohol on its surface layer has the potential to go up in flames. But there’s a good reason bartenders aren’t taking a blowtorch to your afternoon Piña Colada. It seems that while the theatrics of flammable booze have been the main focus of our affections, the benefits of setting alcohol ablaze may extend well beyond the bar top melodrama of pseudo sorcery and small-scale pyrotechnics.
“The first thing you’ll notice about any Blazer is the aroma it gives off after the flames have been extinguished,” explains Charlie Ainsbury of Eau De Vie. Dense enough to drink through your nostrils, the evaporation of alcohol leaves a hazy vapour of sugar, spice and citrus wavering above the glass long after the flames have subsided. “In fact, it’s best to let the Blazer mellow for a minute or two before you put your nose anywhere near the glass,” cautions Ainsbury, as if the idea of a combustible beverage wasn’t perilous enough already. Though it needs a little time, the fire and heat assist in awakening some of the more subtle nuances of the cocktail’s aroma.
The role of heat may serve to enhance more than just a Blazer’s aroma too. “As well as the caramelisation of sugars, fire makes it much easier to dissolve solid ingredients like spices,” says Alex Francis. “On top of that, the subtle flavours in a warm drink are much easier to detect,” he says. It all makes you wonder why we even bother ordering cocktail that don’t arrive in a dramatic inferno of scorching blue flames.
With that in mind, we’ve taken the liberty of scrawling down a few of our favourite Blazers to keep you warm and pickled this winter.
The Rum Blazer
The Rum Blazer is a classic variation on the even more classic, whiskey-based Blue Blazer (so named for the cascading blue flames it produces in the mixing process). Unlike the majority of Blazers, the Rum Blazer is kept on fire throughout the mixing process to assist in the infusion of its less soluble ingredients. The bartender begins by resting a brandy balloon atop a glass filled with boiling water in order to preheat the glass. The balloon is then filled with a measure of aged rum and brown sugar and rotated to warm the alcohol and dissolve the sugar. A cloved orange peel is added before the mixture is set ablaze then continuously rotated while the sugars visibly caramelise before your eyes. Then, in a spectacle reminiscent of witchcraft, pinches of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and aniseed are tossed into the placid flames along with a squeeze of citrus peel, each causing the fire to rouse in a burst of smoke and miniature embers. The contents of the balloon are then poured into a less scalding vessel to create the cocktail’s trademark waterfall of flames (only more orange). The finished product is buttery and dense, full of mellow toffee sweetness and has the kind subtle, smoked spice only an open flame can create. The Little Guy
87 Glebe Point Road, Glebe
The Occidental Blazer
The Occidental Blazer was named after the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, where Jerry Thomas was said to have been tending at the time the recipe for the Blue Blazer was published. Created by Naren Young for the 2006 Bols 200 cocktail competition in Amsterdam, this Blazer is widely regarded to be a modern staple of the flaming cocktail genre. The method and base ingredients behind the Occidental are largely inspired by Jerry Thomas’s original, balancing a spicy, hard-edged rye whiskey against a mixture of sweet apricot brandy, vanilla sugar, angostura, cinnamon, orange peel citrus, aniseed and clove. Like the majority of Blazers, the Occidental is set ablaze and slowly rotated in order to dissolve and caramelise its sugar content before being poured back and forth between two vessels in a stream of dazzling blue fire. The result is a warming and complex cocktail with pronounced elements of smoked spice, toasted grain, black pepper and tobacco.
Eau De Vie
229 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
The Caribbean Blazer
This Blazer is the recent innovation of Thomas Iacorone, one of Sydney’s most accomplished bartenders and the creative genius at the helm of Palmer & Co.’s cocktail operations. The Caribbean Blazer retains some of the classic structure and process of the conventional Blazer, while drawing inspiration from seafaring history and a collection of West Indian alcohols to fashion a light and spicy Blazer with the soul of a pirate. It consists of a simple, long-burning concoction of Rhum J.M Vieux Agricole, house-made Pimento Dram, over proof rum, a measure of water, lime zest and cinnamon. The genius of this particular Blazer lies within its method, which exploits the use of fire in order to lower the potency of the rum-laden base, burning off roughly 20 per cent of the cocktail’s alcohol content and reducing the liquid to a syrupy consistency.
Palmer & Co.
Abercrombie Lane, Sydney