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Bartenders use direct flames in several ways, including flamed citrus peels, flamed cocktails like the Blue Blazer, drinks set on fire, and flamed garnishes atop tiki drinks. Some bartenders have been observed blowing fire, or lighting the bar top/metal ceiling of their bars on fire with high-proof alcohol as a party trick.
Many bartenders are using open flames irresponsibly around alcohol. YouTube is full of videos of bartenders catching themselves, their bars, and their customers on fire, particularly with flaming high-proof alcohol. Articles detail a British woman who suffered facial burns due to an accident with a Flaming Sambuca cocktail [link], a man in Russia suffered burns attempting to drink flaming absinthe [link], a bartender in New York was arrested for setting his bar alight multiple times [link].
Legality of Flamed Cocktails
Flamed drinks may be illegal in your municipality. This may not be due to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission or health department regulation, but due to fire codes, as this North Carolina writer found out [link]. In New York, a bartender was arrested by the fire department [link] for lighting the bartop afire with alcohol.
Fire Safety Recommendations (see "Further Reading" section for sources)
- Check with your local fire department for their regulations on open flames.
- Make sure your venue has a fire extinguisher nearby and everyone on staff knows where it is and how to use it.
- Ensure the area where any fire will be is free of clutter, napkins, flammable alcohol spills, etc.
- Do not consume alcohol if you'll be working with fire.
- Instead of matches, use a self-extinguishing lighter.
- Avoid serving cocktails with the fire garnish still lit.
- Do not drink, nor allow to be consumed, alcohol that is still on fire.
- Avoid creating flamed garnishes with high-proof spirits like 151-proof rum inside a spent lime shell. These can easily spill or be blown by customers, creating a fire stream. Instead, a crouton or sugar cube coated with lemon oil can do the trick, and these do not contain spillable liquid.
- For Blue Blazers, this article in Imbibe Magazine [link] offers several recommendations, including practicing without fire first, having all necessary equipment in place, and securing loose clothing and hair. Make sure you use proper glassware.
- Do not leave a drink on fire in a glass or other vessel for longer than necessary, as the vessel can become hot (leading to burns/dropping) or shatter/explode.
- Do not blow out a flamed liquid, nor allow a customer to do so. Flaming liquids should be snuffed out by covering them.
- Do not pour high proof alcohol onto a drink already on fire, or onto an open flame, as the flames can travel up the alcohol stream and explode the bottle in your hand.
- Consider only serving flamed drinks in large format bowls. (Many good tips specific to the tiki bar format can be found in this article [link]) "By making it communal, the drink stays in one place instead of being carried around, there are more eyes on it, and it reduces the overall number of flaming drinks being served at any one time." [link]
- Do not carry or move a flamed cocktail.
- Don't serve a flaming cocktail to an intoxicated person, who may be more reckless in their handling of it.
- Use extra-long straws for punchbowl drinks so that nobody's face gets near the flame.
- Beware of wind/drafts and do not light drinks on fire in a drafty part of a bar.
"How to Flame Cocktails Safely" Imbibe Magazine [link]
"Think again before you fire up that flaming Dr. Pepper" Star News [link]
"How to Flame a Shot (Which You Should Never Do)" Supercall [link]
"7 Tips for Safely Serving Incredible Flaming Drinks" Tales of the Cocktail [link]
"Jerry Thomas's Classic Blue Blazer Cocktail & Flaming Drink Safety Tips" Spruce Eats [link]
"Gizmodo's Guide to Setting Drinks On Fire" Gizmodo [link]