Words by Simon Difford
Photography by image from The Bar-tenders Guide 1862
This spectacular serve involves setting a spirit (usually whiskey or brandy) alight and then pouring the flaming liquid between two silver-plated tankards with handles (called Blazer Mugs) so creating a blue arc of flame between the two.
This incendiary cocktail was created by Jerry Thomas, author of the first bartending book and travelling performance bartender. Thomas was a master of showmanship; he used solid silver bar tools and cups embellished with precious stones and metals. He understood the importance of putting on a show when making drinks and people travelled to see his 'act' as much as they did to try his legendary cocktails.
Nicknamed the 'Professor' due to his ability to deal "with the fanciest orders imaginable", Thomas developed his signature Blue Blazer drink whilst working at the El Dorado, a gambling saloon in San Francisco during the gold rush. He is said to have held the tankards at a meter's distance from each other and would only make the drink if the outside temperature was 10°C (50°F) or below, making an exception to this rule if the person ordering was suffering from a cold or the flu, whose symptoms the drink was to alleviate.
The story of its creation says that a huge gruff man stormed into the bar Thomas was working in and (quoting from an account by Herber Asbury in 1928) said: "Bar-keep! Fix me up some hell-fire that'll shake me right down to my gizzard!" Thomas then proceeded to pour ignited whisky and boiling water between two cups. In Asbury's story, the man drank the cocktail and said "He done it. Right down to my gizzard! Yes, sir, right down to my gizzard!"
President Ulysses S. Grant witnessed Thomas perform this spectacle and was apparently so impressed that he presented him with a cigar. In his 1862 Bartender's Guide Thomas wrote: "A beholder gazing for the first time upon an experienced artist, compounding this beverage, would naturally come to the conclusion that it was a nectar for Pluto rather than Bacchus."
Obviously pouring flaming spirit into a mug held a distance below with your other hand is extremely dangerous and to quote Jerry Tomas, "The novice in mixing this beverage should be careful not to scald himself. To become proficient in throwing the liquid from one mug to the other, it will be necessary to practice for some time with cold water." I also recommend you stand on a non-flammable floor and have suitable fire-fighting equipment nearby.