Flaming citrus over a drink is one part flavor, two parts flair. It’s a bartending show stopper in a crowded bar, the Fourth of July grand finale — except, in the right bar, it’s a finale that happens time after time.
“It’s the pepper of your cocktail,” Regis Vankaster, a bartender in New York City’s BXL Zoute, tells me with a section of orange peel in one hand, a book of matches in the other.
The pepper, in this case, is the oil from the skin of citrus. Any citrus works, but orange lights best. The trick can be used on any drink that calls for a twist, so don’t hold back once you get the hang of it. Why settle with simply squeezing citrus oil out of the peel when you can squirt it through fire?
Flaming citrus isn’t new, but it’s not a relic of cocktail history either. A bartender named Pepe Ruiz at Chasen’s in Los Angeles popularized the trick in the 1970s, Amanda Hesser writes for The New York Times. It all started with Dean Martin and a little drink called the Flame of Love — vodka, sherry and a flamed twist the length of an entire orange.
“He loved martinis,” Ruiz told the Times. “One night he said to me: ‘I have to drink the same martini over and over again. Why don’t you come out with something new?’”
But does it actually change the drink? Vankaster put it to a blind taste test one day. He made two of the exact same drink, but only flamed the citrus for one of them. He then served them up blind, and the flamed drink was chosen correctly. Here’s how you can test it for yourself (although hiding which peel was flamed takes out half the fun).
How to flame citrus
1. Gather your materials: A fresh orange, a knife and some matches or a lighter.
2. Cut a round piece of of peel big enough to get a good squeeze out of.
3. Hold the flame (either match or lighter) a few inches above the drink.
4. Squeeze the peel (outside facing away from you) in the direction of the flame. Squeeze it hard to get out as much juice and oil as possible in one fell swoop.
5. Soak in all of the attention and compliments.