The Story Behind The Blue Blazer

Some cocktails are the product of hours of tinkering and R&D. Others are made in the heat of the moment.

When a customer rolled up to the bar at San Francisco’s El Dorado saloon and said, “Bar-keep! Fix me up some hell-fire that’ll shake me right down to my gizzard!” bartender Jerry Thomas’s response was the Blue Blazer: a literal flaming Hot Toddy made with cask-strength Scotch whisky.

According to “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails,” the first-ever mention of this drink appears in the writings of American naval officer William Augustus Weaver, who wrote of his fellow sailors drinking “blue blazes” during the War of 1812. However, since Weaver never explained what those “blue blazes” were, the credit for this cocktail goes to Jerry Thomas, widely considered to be the father of American mixology. During his illustrious career, Thomas tended bar in New Haven, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, and a number of other major cities before settling in NYC in 1865, where he lived out the last 20 years of his life.

When Thomas was all but 19 years old, he got a job at San Francisco’s El Dorado gambling saloon at the height of the gold rush. Legend has it that a group of bandits tried to hold up the bar one night, but Thomas offered them a drink that was so potent it left the criminals too drunk to carry out their plan. Thus, the young bartender achieved local celebrity status, and the El Dorado became a destination for visiting 49ers.

It was there that Thomas concocted the Blue Blazer for one such gold miner. In 1862, he published the recipe along with a drawing of himself whipping up a Blue Blazer in his cocktail manual “How to Mix Drinks.” The drink’s popularity waned by the late 19th century, as snobby bartenders found the cocktail to be a matter of style over substance. And when Prohibition ended, the lower-proof blended Scotches that flooded the U.S. market rendered the drink’s fiery prep nearly impossible, further keeping its f(l)ame at bay.

It wasn’t until the 21st century when bartender Dale DeGroff discovered a pre-heating technique that made igniting lower-proof whiskies possible that this drink had any sort of resurgence. By 2007, the bartending community had unearthed Thomas’s old tomes, and found the original, less laborious method of making the Blue Blazer.

Thomas was championed for both his cocktail making skills and his performances — an early flair bartender, if you will. He was even nicknamed “The Professor” for his ability to master complex drinks in record time. And while the Blue Blazer doesn’t have many ingredients, it’s one of the harder — and more dangerous — drinks to build. Its preparation is the act of repeatedly “throwing” a drink with the added risk of the contents being ablaze. As Thomas himself puts it, “If well done this will have the appearance of a continued stream of liquid fire.” However, it’s worth noting that the fire isn’t for visuals alone. The flames can enhance the Scotch’s aromatics and burn off some of the spirit’s fusel oils, which in excess can give off hot, intensely boozy flavors. For those who aren’t Scotch fans, overproof rum and green Chartreuse both work as substitutes. Whichever route you take, heed Thomas’s warning: “It will be necessary to practice for some time with cold water.” When bringing out the fire for the first time, we also recommend keeping an extinguisher within reach.


  • 4 ounces cask-strength Scotch whisky
  • 3 ounces boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Garnish: 2 lemon twists


  1. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a lemon twist to two separate cocktail glasses, and set aside.
  2. Pour boiling water into a metal pint mug with handles and flaring rims.
  3. Quickly add whisky to the same mug and ignite with a long match or grill lighter.
  4. Take a second identical mug, and carefully pour ¾ of the flaming mixture into the other mug.
  5. Pour ¾ of the contents of the second mug back into the original from a slightly greater distance.
  6. Repeat four or five times, increasing the distance with each pour.
  7. Snuff out each mug with the bottom of the other.
  8. Distribute the contents of the mugs evenly between the two prepared cocktail glasses, and stir.

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Yield: 2
Calories: 240
Updated: 2024-02-22

The Blue Blazer