Setting alcohol on fire for recipes and drinks has multiple effects: It can warm the food or drink below it; it can lower the alcohol content of the recipe; and it can add a deeper, smokier, more caramelized flavor to the dish or cocktail. Perhaps most importantly, it adds excitement, novelty and drama to the presentation – wowing everyone and turning the food or drink into an experience.
But it’s important to know that not all types of alcohol burn, and not all types of alcohol that do catch fire burn in the same way or with the same intensity. In addition, some burning alcohols taste better than others.
Generally speaking, any beverage that is more than 40% alcohol (80 proof) will light, though liquids that are more than 50% alcohol (100 proof) light with more ease and have a more impressive flame. The higher the alcohol content, the bigger the flame.
Let’s take a look at some of the most flammable liquors, as well as what you can do with them.
Setting liquids on fire can be extremely dangerous. Always remove the bottle of alcohol from the area before lighting a dish or drink on fire. Never pour liquor directly into a flaming drink or dish. Never attempt to transport flaming drinks or dishes. Never make flammable dishes or drinks while intoxicated.
1. Overproof Rum
Overproof rums, such as Bacardi 151, have an alcohol content of over 75%, which means they are ideal for making flaming mixed drinks. The flame will be big and bright.
For the best results, you can “float” Bacardi 151 on top of other mixed drinks, because higher proof alcohol will rest on top of lower proof liquids. Just gently pour your rum on top of the rest of your drink and ignite.
To increase safety, use a long match or long-reach lighter to light your drink or dish.
Sambuca is a clear Italian liqueur that is made with spices, including the star anise seed, and sweetened with sugar. With a proof that's usually above 80 and a good sugar content, it's ideal for flaming mixed drinks, especially because it produces a pretty blue flame and a pleasant, distinct anise smell.
A flaming sambuca is easy to make: Simply pour an ounce or 2 into a shot glass and light. The flame will warm the alcohol, create a pleasant smell, make the shot less alcoholic, and look great. Just put the flame out before drinking, and be warned that the alcohol may be hot.
You can also make a flaming Lamborghini with sambuca.
Plastic straws and flaming alcohol don't mix well.
3. Grand Marnier
An orange-flavored cognac brandy, Grand Marnier is a favorite for flambé cooking dishes as well as a range of fruity cocktails. Although it doesn't have an impressively big flame (it's only 80 proof, or about 40% alcohol), it does have the advantage of creating a warm, burnt-orange-tinged smell and taste. Try making crêpes Suzette for a truly impressive brunch, or a flaming B-52 (1/2 ounce coffee liqueur, 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier, 1/2 ounce Bailey's Irish cream) for a fun, tasty shot.
A popular hard alcohol from Mexico made from the blue agave plant, tequila has a minimum alcohol content of 40% (80 proof), though some types contain up to 65% alcohol – therefore, it's not a bad option for flammable food and drink fun. There are some great recipes for flaming cheese dip or flaming lemon drops.
Bright green and made from wormwood and anise, absinthe is a beverage of many myths – and it was once thought to have psychedelic effects on its drinkers. With a proof of 90 to 150, it's not only easy to set aflame, but it's also often traditionally drunk after lighting it up. The method includes dunking a sugar cube in the liquor, then balancing it over the glass on a small spoon and lighting it on fire.
Most vodka is at least 80 proof, though it can be much more than that. It also produces a bright blue flame that looks great. Try mixing up a flaming Ferrari for you and friends if you want a drink. To cook with flaming vodka, try penne with vodka sauce.
Keep in mind that this is far from a complete list of flammable liquors – any liquid that is over about 40% alcohol (80 proof) will catch fire. It's just that these alcohols burn well, are often used in traditional flammable drinks, or taste good after being set aflame. Enjoy!
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer living in Montana.