Some nights at modernist speakeasy PX in Alexandria, Va., it looks like the bar is on fire. Blue flames flicker along the rail as EatGoodFood Group’s master mixologist Todd Thrasher and his team prep the lounge’s ever-popular Champagne Cocktail.
The fireworks display begins when two sugar cubes in a sterling silver chalice are doused with a mixture of Bacardi 151 and Grand Marnier, and lit. It blazes for several minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved, then a shower of cherry bitters and cherry juice snuff out the mini inferno. Thibaut-Janisson Virginia Fizz finishes out the combustible cocktail, which possesses a luminous red-orange hue.
The head-turning sipper is its own best advertisement. “As soon as you make one, everyone else wants one,” says Thrasher. “People love fire.”
All across the country, mixologists are sparking a new trend by adding flame to their cocktail programs. The Rooibos at the Aviary in Chicago is served tableside in a vac pot with a Bunsen burner blazing underneath it. The bar staff at Huber’s Café in Portland, Or. lights the signature Spanish Coffee cocktail on fire when its set down in front of guests. And Brooklyn tiki lounge the Zombie Hut features a series of flaming shots.
Thrasher looked to Polynesia for inspiration himself when he was crafting the Scorpion Bowl, which is available at EatGoodFood Group’s American comfort food joint the Majestic. Served in a volcano-shaped bowl with the center crater filled with Bacardi 151, the cocktail is set aflame when it is served. “We do give the disclaimer, ‘Please don’t drink the fire,’” says the pyro loving mixologist. “We have seen people put their plastic straws into the flames and try to drink the liquor underneath.”
You don’t need to set the whole drink ablaze to achieve an eye-catching effect. Yusef Austin – who bills himself as the Cocktail Architect and has designed signature sips for New York City’s Ken & Cook and the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel – keeps it simple. One interpretation of a Sazerac in his recipe arsenal is finished off with a flamed orange peel twist. “When you toast the citrus, the oils come out, which affects the taste of the cocktail,” he explains. “Plus it adds some pizzazz and flair.”
Austin prefers to use matches over a Zippo, because lighter fluid can sully the subtle flavors at play. One more tip: be careful about firing up cocktails in glassware, since it can become discolored, crack, or shatter completely.
Butane blowtorches can also add a theatrical splash. Austin has used one to caramelize sugar that’s coated on the inside of the glass. “It’s like you’re creating candy for your cocktail,” he says. Thrasher employs one when he sprinkles ground cinnamon over some of his creations, because the spice sparks and sparkles when it passes through the flame. “It’s an old magician’s trick,” explains Thrasher. With fiery flourishes like this, tipplers get more than just a cocktail – they get a show.