Portland has a history — one could even say a habit — of burning itself to the ground. Abanakis torched settlers out twice in the 1600s, and British Lt. Henry Mowatt famously razed Portland in 1775, leaving thousands shivering in the woods. Mowatt’s bombardment was considered so ignominious that Jefferson even mentions it, sort of, in the Declaration of Independence.
The fourth and (thus far) last time the Forest City woke up to its own smoldering ruins was in 1866, after the Great Fire. To commemorate 90 years of independence, some knuckleheaded street urchin reportedly threw a firecracker into Degma’s Cooper-Shop on Fore Street, igniting a conflagration that made the front page of newspapers from New York to San Francisco. Most of what we call the Old Port was destroyed, with the exception of that blue building next to Rosie’s, which is why most buildings there today are made of bricks, rather than wood.
In commemoration of 142 years without another Great Fire, I offer a handful of pyrotechnic decoctions for your sipping pleasure. Enjoy, but be careful out there!
The Blue Blazer
Jerry Thomas strode like a colossus across the American mixological scene in the last half of the 19th century. To picture him, however, is a difficult task, as no reliable images exist. There are rumors caricaturist Thomas Nast did some drawings of Thomas, and you can see his tombstone in a Bronx cemetery (misspelled inscription and all). Otherwise, all we have are two bits of iconography, both depicting him tossing his famous Blue Blazer (see illustration at right). The story goes that Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco for a 49er who challenged him to “fix me up some hell-fire that’ll shake me right down to my gizzard!” Thomas did, on both counts.
For those brave or foolish enough to give this one a go, a few hints and tips. You’ll need over-proofed (above 100 proof) whiskey. Macallan Cask Strength is a fine choice if you slouch toward scotch; Booker’s bourbon if your tastes lean closer to home. The choice of mugs is of utmost importance. Get some with handles that won’t conduct too much heat, and know that the flaming liquid is more easily handled if the lip of the mug flares outward.
2.5 ounces whiskey
2.5 ounces boiling water
Put a teaspoon of sugar into your serving glass with the lemon peel. In one mug, add the hot water; in the other mug, add the whiskey and ignite. Pour the whiskey into the water and then pour the mixture back and forth between the mugs four or five times. If done well, or even magnificently, this will have the appearance of a continuous stream of fire. Pour into your serving glass and stir.
Here’s another doozy from the boozy San Francisco of the late 19th century. While not traditionally a flaming drink, the Pisco Sour is usually garnished with a few dots of bitters on top, and Jeff Morgenthaler, a forward-thinking barman in modern-day Oregon, thought burning the bitters into the drink would be a fine idea. We couldn’t agree more.
You’ll need a Misto olive-oil sprayer (available at LeRoux Kitchen for around $15), but the tricky part is getting your hands on some pisco, a Peruvian brandy whose aromatic variety is made from the Muscat grape. It’s not available in Maine, so you’ll have to venture to Away or get some via the Internet. Brands to look for are BarSol and Mae de Ouro.
2 ounces pisco brandy
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
.5-.75 ounces simple syrup (1 cup boiling water and 1 cup sugar, stirred until clear)
White of 1 fresh egg
In your Misto sprayer: 2 ounces Angostura Bitters and 2 ounces Bacardi 151.
Add all the ingredients into an empty cocktail shaker and shake hard for 10 seconds. Add ice to the shaker and shake again for 20 seconds. Pour into a chilled martini glass. Charge your Misto sprayer (per manufacturer’s instructions). Aim the Misto at the drink with one hand and light a lighter or kitchen match with the other. Spray the Misto. (It’s just like when you were a kid with a can of Right Guard!)
The Volcano Bowl is a Tiki Bar staple that resembles an overly decorated, ceramic Bundt pan. The bowls are widely available online and you can pay what you want — hundreds of dollars for a genuine relic or $20 for one made in China. The instructions are pretty simple…
1. Fill the “moat” around the center volcano with something boozy. Any Tiki-type punch will do. I like to make a large batch of Esquivel, simply because sprinkling cinnamon over fire makes for quite a show (don’t get carried away). Decorate with straws, orchids, plastic monkeys or what have you.
2. Fill the indentation in the volcano with something inflammable and ignite. Bacardi 151 makes a steady blue flame. A crouton soaked in lemon extract creates a tall flame and a vivid lemon scent. Rubbing alcohol produces an orange and blue flame and has the benefit of being dirt cheap.
Volcano Bowl a la Esquivel
10 ounces light rum
5 ounces Kahlúa
5 ounces pineapple juice
5 dashes Angostura Bitters
3 dashes orange bitters
4 ounces chilled champagne
Twist from one entire orange
Mix all the ingredients, except the cinnamon, and place in the fridge for a couple of hours (if you’re planning ahead) or stir with ice (if you’re not). Add to your Volcano Bowl, ignite the volcano and sprinkle cinnamon over the flame and into the drink. Oooh! Ahhh!
Also known as Café Diabolique, Café Brulot is a complicated-but-worth-the-effort after-dinner coffee that hails from New Orleans. In a town where dinner is theater, this is a perfect way to end things. At most well-appointed homes in the City That Care Forgot, your host will have all the fancy accoutrements at the ready. If you don’t have one of those fancy Café Brulot sets hanging around (who does around here?), you can just use a wide, two-quart skillet or pan. Pouring the flaming liquor over a long strand of orange peel always delights. And you’ll want to use a good, strong coffee, preferably one fortified with chicory. Luckily, Café du Monde chicory coffee is easy to come by — a staple of most Asian markets.
2 ounces orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau, etc.)
2 ounces brandy
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cups hot, strong, black coffee
Peel the lemons and oranges in one continuous strip so they form a spiral. (A channel knife is good for this, or even a vegetable peeler.) Hold the fruit over the pan as you do this, so any ensuing juice ends up there. Stud the orange peels with the cloves, stick on a fork and set aside. Add all the other ingredients in a pot or pan, except the coffee, and turn the heat to high. Carefully ignite the brandy mixture and, while holding the forked orange peel over the pan, carefully ladle the flaming liquid over and down the peel. Do this four or five times. Oooh! Ahhh! Pour the coffee into the pan or pot to extinguish the flames and serve in coffee cups. Take a bow.
— John Myers