Xiphias Gladius (xiphias) wrote,
Xiphias Gladius

Mixology Monday: Variations on the Blue Blazer

So, the theme of this Mixology Monday is "Variations". As some of you know, the drink I've been playing with recently has been the Blue Blazer, the famous signature drink of Jerry Thomas.

If you read my LiveJournal regularly, you've seen me making one, but, if not, here's a demonstration. We filmed the thing, discovered that the lighting was all wrong to show the actual, y'know, FIRE, so I made a second batch, this time with the lights out, and we spliced that in the middle.

Then we realized that I'd changed outfits in between. So, if you're wondering why, thirty seconds in, my hands are suddenly in a different place, my hat and vest are missing, and the lights are out, that's why. Still, it gives a pretty good idea of the process.

Neat, hunh?

I'd read about the Blue Blazer for years, but never really considered making one until I read David Wondrich's book Imbibe, the biography of Jerry Thomas / history of bartending / historical recipe book.

In it, Wondrich gives his recipe for a Blue Blazer. He uses a cask-strength single-malt Scotch, Demarara sugar, boiling water, and lemon peel.

Now, I have religious objections to lighting a fifty-dollar cask-strength single-malt Scotch on fire.1 So I clearly could not use that recipe. However, Wondrich goes on to point out that, as the Blue Blazer passed from bartender to bartender, bartenders made variations.

So I felt comfortable doing the same.

My first attempt was, well, fine. It flamed nicely and looked nifty and all, but it tasted boring. I used a rye whiskey instead of the Scotch, and it ended up drinkable, but boring. I thought I could do better.

And I did. See, fundamentally, a Blue Blazer consists of the following things:

  1. A flammable liquor
  2. A sweetener
  3. Other stuff that makes the drink taste more interesting and generally better
  4. Boiling water
  5. Fire
  6. Mixing and showmanship

Basically, my starting point was to look through my liquor cabinet and find the things that were 1) inexpensive enough that I felt comfortable setting them on fire, and 2) over a hundred proof (50% alcohol), so they would light fairly easily.

So far, I've developed three Blue Blazer variations that I really, really like.

Ian's Blue Blazer #1
This is the first variation I developed, when I was sticking close to Wondrich's recipe, except for the blasphemous part of burning a single-malt. The folks at BRIX Wine Shop helped me pick out a Rittenhouse overproof rye, for seventeen bucks.

The Rittenhouse is one of the best values in rye. It's cheaper than the Wild Turkey or Jim Beam ryes, and tastes better. It's slightly more expensive than Old Overholt, but it tastes much better. And, at seventeen bucks (and I've heard of places that have it cheaper), I can feel comfortable setting it alight. I mean, it's good enough to drink straight, but not SO good that you HAVE to drink it straight.

Of course, in experimenting, I went through my entire bottle of the stuff, and then switched to a $23 W L Weller bourbon. Now, don't get startled: Weller is known for their high-end, decades-long aged bourbons, but I WASN'T flaming one of those. They also make basic bourbons, too. Still very tasty. And that worked every bit as well as the Rittenhouse. I haven't tried it, but I suspect that the Wild Turkey 101 Rye would be perfectly acceptable as well.

I followed David Wondrich's suggestion of using raw sugar --- Demarara or turbinado -- to good effect. But, having a sweet tooth, I more than quadrupled the sugar. And I experimented with bitters, finally settling on a few dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters.

And I made a couple changes in technique. David Wondrich follows Jerry Thomas, in pouring it back and forth four or five times.

I pour it back and forth a lot more -- as long as I can keep it alight. This does two things: first, it burns off the harshest of the alcohol, making a smoother, easier-to-drink beverage. And second, it caramelizes the sugar. Third, it gives me more time to play with fire, which, let's face it, is the primary reason to make a Blue Blazer in the first place.

But I do take Wondrich's suggestion of trying to always make at least two at a time. More liquid is easier to handle, and, anyway, why would you drink one of these WITHOUT a friend to show off to?

The result is a drink that my wife will drink -- and she doesn't drink liquor. I made one for my downstairs neighbor, and I think I killed off an incipient cold he might have been coming down with. I've been making them for myself instead of hot toddies -- to quote Homer Simpson, "I don't know the scientific explanation -- but FIRE MADE IT GOOD!"

For Two Ian's Improved Blue Blazers
Two shots of overproof rye or bourbon -- something you could drink on its own, but feel okay about setting on fire
About a shot of turbanado sugar (such as "Sugar In The Raw"), maybe a little less -- say, an ounce and a quarter or so.
Six dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Two shots of boiling water

Get two shiny tankards with handles, and a flared rim. The flared rim is so that liquid will pour out of them smoothly and predictably -- very important when pouring flame. The handles are so that the heat of the fire is a bit farther away from your hands than it might otherwise be. And the "shiny" is because there's no point in doing this if you don't look GOOD doing it.

I tend to wash the tankards just before use (I wash them after use, TOO), in order to warm them up a little. The whole point of this exercise is to get alcohol vapors that you can light on fire. Therefore, making things warm is important. Starting out with warm tankards is a good first step.

Get a fireplace lighter -- one of those long lighters that you can use for lighting a barbecue grill or whatever. Keeping the fire away from your hands makes things easier.

Pre-measure as much as you can. You're going to want to be working quickly once you start -- you aren't going to want to have things cool down before you get a chance to light 'em on fire.

When your kettle boils, put the sugar and bitters in one of the cups. Pour the two shots of boiling water in over them. Then pour the bourbon in, stick the fireplace lighter right above the surface of the liquid, and spark it. With a bit of luck, the alcohol fumes will light.

Then start pouring the flaming liquid from tankard to tankard.

This, of course, is the fun part. You should have previously practiced this "pouring back and forth" with just cold water. You did do that, right? 'Cause if you didn't, you're basically screwed.

But let me let you in on a little secret. Alcohol flames aren't very hot. While making Blue Blazers earlier this evening, I accidentally poured some on my hand.

It was warm. And then the flaming alcohol dripped off my hand and onto the wooden TV tray I was working above. Where it fizzled blue and went out.

I mean, yeah, sure, if you've got lots of inflammable things around, I think you could get yourself in trouble. But alcohol flames are just not THAT scary.

Keep pouring back and forth until the flames go out, then pour the mixture into two coffee cups. Give one to a friend, and one to yourself. Or, y'know, just drink them both yourself.

So that's the one I developed. And it's good.

But if ONE recipe is GOOD, shouldn't MORE recipes be BETTER?

As I was running low on Rittenhouse, I started looking around and thinking what else I could use. And I still had that bottle of Slivovitz that I talked about LAST Mixology Monday. . .

Now, if you remember, Slivovitz is a plum brandy, the national drink of Serbia and that general vicinity.

The Balkan Blazer
Yeah, I'm not sure about that name. It seems somehow too . . . likely to be literal, far too often.
Two shots of Slivovitz
One shot of honey
Two shots of boiling water

The procedure is just as above. I played around with other additives, but, for the time being, I like it with just the brandy and honey. Oh, I could change my mind -- lemon, and lemon peel, both go well with this, and I encourage you all to try things out and see what you think.

The final thing I decided to try to blaze was because of a suggestion that hobbitblue's squeeze Forrest suggested: what happens if you use absinthe?

I thought about this.

How do you drink absinthe? With water. And maybe with sugar.

And, historically, there have been people who have set the sugar on fire before dropping it in their drink.

So the elements are all there. Could it work? I had to find out.

Now, I didn't use REAL absinthe for this, but Absente is high enough proof to make this work. I haven't yet tried it with real absinthe -- we just got a bottle of Lucid, but I've got a lot of other absinthe-based or absinthe-using cocktails to try before I get around to this one. But given that the Blue Blazer is really just a variation on how absinthe is normally drunk, this is an exception to my "don't do things like this to things that cost over fifty dollars a bottle."

Blue Fairy
I also considered the name "Green Blazer", but, since the absinthe burns blue, not green, I figured to take the name this way, instead.
2 shots of absinthe or absinthe-substitute
2 tablespoons of white sugar
2 shots of boiling water

Do as you'd do with the other ones. Absinthe is a complex enough flavor on its own that it doesn't need any other ingredients than the sugar and water.

The Blue Fairy is an interesting drink, but I don't actually like it as much as I like absinthe just normally. Honestly, this was something I had fun inventing, and might make for friends, but, well, absinthe works better cold. Its other problem is that it doesn't louche. Still, it's fun to do once or twice, as a change.

Anyway, playing with all these things, I've come to a couple conclusions. One is that the Blue Blazer isn't, or doesn't have to be, only ONE drink. It can be a category of drinks.

The second thing I discovered was that that category isn't only a "stunt" category. The drinks that can be made this way are not only showy and impressive, but can also be very tasty, and use the fire as an ingredient, caramelizing sugars, and developing flavors.

1: Now, I know you guys: this comment is going to cause the most discussion. I'm Jewish. So, let me explain the ways in which setting a fifty-dollar scotch on fire is against Jewish law.
  • Baal Tashchit: the commandment of Baal Tashchit forbids us from destroying fruit trees, and, by extension, destroying anything useful frivolously. It is a commandment against wastefulness, which setting a single-malt on fire would be. Adding water to a single-malt is arguably okay. Adding carbonated water is quite certainly pushing the boundaries. Adding fire must be so far beyond the pale that you can't even SEE the pale from there.
  • Pikuach Nefesh: We are required to save human life, and actions which needlessly risk human life are forbidden. Many of my friends know where I live. Therefore, for the protection of my own life, setting a single-malt on fire would be prohibited.
  • Placing a stumbling block before the blind: It is forbidden to lead others into sin. Since only a Sanhedrin can pronounce a sentence of death, and there is no Sanhedrin, anyone who killed me for lighting a single-malt on fire would be usurping Rabbinic prerogatives. No matter how justified my killing might appear, only a Sanhedrin could, by Jewish law, sentence me to death, so anyone who killed me would be committing an unlawful homicide by Jewish law. Therefore, I would bear the guilt for leading someone into homicide.
  • Politically Incorrect Point: I'm Jewish. Scotch is Scottish. The thing costs 50+ dollars. C'mon, now.
Tags: bartending

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