Happy Hour History: The Blue Blazer

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Admittedly, there are easier ways to make a hot toddy. But if you were a bartender in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, you needed a bit of flare to earn the respect of the hard-living, hard-drinking clientele.

Allegedly invented by legendary barman Jerry Thomas at the El Dorado gambling saloon sometime prior to 1862, the Blue Blazer is the original flaming cocktail. Thomas concocted the cocktail one evening when a burly giant of a fella entered the saloon and said, “Barkeep, fix me up some hellfire that’ll shake me right down to my gizzard.”

cornelius.jpg
Visual approximation.

Perhaps, not wanting to point out that humans don’t have gizzards, Thomas instead took some whiskey and boiling water, set it on fire, and poured it back and forth between two cups as a blue flame illuminated the arc of the liquid. He then added a little sugar and lemon, and served. The man with the gizzard was pleased.

After that, Thomas only served the Blue Blazer if the temperature outside dipped below 50 degrees, unless the person ordering it was suffering from a cold. However, I’m willing to bet if that same fella wanted one at high noon in July, Thomas would have capitulated.

Always something of a novelty, this is not the sort of cocktail customers order on the regular. It is, however, an impressive bar trick for daring bartenders to have in their repertoire.

Blue Blazer Recipe

Ingredients
3 oz. cask-strength single-malt scotch (David Wondrich recommends Laphroaig, the Glenlivet Nadurra, or the Macallan)
1 oz. boiling water
2 tsp. simple syrup
1 swath of a lemon peel

Hardware
2 metal mugs with handles
1 snifter
Long matches or a lighter

CAVEAT POTATOR: Mix at your own risk. Be sure you have cleared the work area of all flammable materials, and lay out some damp cloths. It’s also a good idea to practice your technique with water first.

Directions: First, be sure to cue up your background music.

Add the simple syrup and lemon peel to the snifter, and set aside. Warm the mugs with hot water. Discard the water. Pour the boiling water into one of the mugs. Quickly add the scotch. Ignite the liquid with a match or lighter.

Pick up the mugs, and carefully pour 3/4 of the flaming liquid into the other mug. Pour 3/4 of the liquid back into the first mug. Repeat this process several more times, gradually increasing the distance between mugs. (It’s said that Thomas held the mugs up to a meter apart.)

Finally, pour all the liquid into one mug, and transfer the still flaming contents into the snifter. Extinguish the flame with the bottom of the other mug. Stir the contents, and serve.

Enjoy while listening to this.

Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso.

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