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To Flame or Not To Flame the Orange Twist

The Big Crunch Feb 12, 2013 12:41 PM

Recently got Dale DeGroff's Craft of the Cocktail, where he repeatedly advocates flaming the orange peel. They also did this a lot at Sidebar in Silver Spring, the bar that in many ways got me into cocktails. However, Robert Hess never calls for it. It never comes up in The Joy of Mixology. I don't think it's ever called for in the PDT book, or Wondrich's Imbibe.

So, does it really make a difference? Though certainly showy, in theory shouldn't it actually decrease the amount of oils expressed into the drink (since they're getting burned away), and thus lessen the effect of the orange twist in a drink?

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  1. JMF RE: The Big Crunch Feb 13, 2013 07:48 AM

    Flaming the peel makes a difference. It is a change in the flavor profile. The smoky orange flavor/aroma is much more noticeable than a regular twist. I now carefully toast the peel a bit before flaming to increase the burnt oils, and if the toasted flamed peel is used as the garnish, the smoky flavor is even more pronounced.

    Flaming definitely is one of Dale's trademarks. It's a nice bit of flash to attract attention, both visually and with the aroma; increase sales, and add a slightly different flavor component.

    By the way, I've seen flamed orange peel at PDT numerous times, and in the PDT book (pg. 28) Jim mentions keeping matches and striker on the bar for flaming twists and flaming as a technique is mentioned on pg. 34. Also it is mentioned in several cocktails, the Bizet pg. 66 and the Lacrimosa pg. 157 (both created by David Slape a former PDT bartender), the Little Bit Country on pg. 167, the Silk Road pg. 238,the Smoky Grove pg. 243, and the There Will Be Blood pg. 250.

    By the way, the Smoky Grove cocktail was created for me by Jonathan "The Cocktail Guru" Pogash at Bookmarks bar in the Library Hotel. Jim Meehan read my article about it, tried it, and liked it enough to put it into the book and made it a crew drink for after hours at PDT. Of course he changed it a bit, switching in Compass Box Peat Monster for the original Laphroig, and cutting back the two dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters to one each. I liked the original, it was more complex.


    14 Replies
    1. re: JMF
      davis_sq_pro RE: JMF Feb 13, 2013 08:00 AM

      I sometimes get a bit of an unpleasant aroma -- maybe gasoline? -- when I have a drink with a flamed peel. Anyone else find this to be the case?

      I noticed this most recently when a bartender used a match to flame the peel. I wonder if some of the sulfur (or whatever match heads are made of these days) somehow transferred into or reacted with the oils?

      1. re: davis_sq_pro
        JMF RE: davis_sq_pro Feb 13, 2013 08:10 AM

        Yes, if the match touches the peel, the sulphur combines with the oils and form that nasty taste and aroma. As long as the match doesn't touch the peel, all is fine.

        1. re: JMF
          davis_sq_pro RE: JMF Feb 13, 2013 09:03 AM

          So perhaps best practice is to use a lighter instead? Not as romantic as striking a match, but ... the bartender in question is considered to be one of the top guys in Boston. If he's screwing it up on occasion then so are lots of others.

          1. re: davis_sq_pro
            The Big Crunch RE: davis_sq_pro Feb 13, 2013 09:32 AM

            I don't think it works with a lighter, I don't know why, I just know I've been told this. Also, it can produce a pretty big puff of flame, and in general, you don't want that around a lighter.

            My guess is that they type of matches makes a subtle difference as well. I dunno, at home it just doesn't seem worth the effort.

            1. re: davis_sq_pro
              zin1953 RE: davis_sq_pro Feb 14, 2013 07:15 AM

              Never a lighter -- at least not a refillable one that uses lighter fluid . . .

              1. re: zin1953
                davis_sq_pro RE: zin1953 Feb 14, 2013 07:29 AM

                You mean like a Zippo? I can see how that would cause some issues. But butane should be fine..?

                1. re: davis_sq_pro
                  JMF RE: davis_sq_pro Aug 1, 2013 07:24 PM

                  I don't smoke and haven't for over a decade, but the past four months I carry a Bic butane lighter at all times... specifically for flaming orange peel.

            2. re: JMF
              yarm RE: JMF Feb 13, 2013 10:17 AM

              It's not whether the match touches the peel as much as whether the drink maker waits for the match head to burn off completely (the part that has the sulphur that chemically allows the match to light). Although as I said in my longer comment, that flavor is magnified when the sooty peel is dropped in (if the flame was under or below the peel for any length of time, not just igniting the oils that were passing through).


          2. re: JMF
            The Big Crunch RE: JMF Feb 13, 2013 08:27 AM

            I wonder if some drinks really need it. Dale seems to call for it in darn near any drink with an orange twist. What if a drink just doesn't need that extra smoky component?

            Also, thanks for heads-up about the PDT book. Despite owning the book for a while, I don't use it very often because so many of the drinks are out of my price range, in terms of more obscure (an not inexpensive) liqueurs, infusions that would require purchases just to infuse, or other oddball ingredients. That said, he doesn't seem as obsessed with constantly flaming the peel as DeGroff does. Though I don't have any Carpano, I'll try the Smoky Grove tonight with Laphroiag and Dolin.

            As far as the unpleasant gas/sulfur aroma, it was probably because the bartender didn't know to let the match burn for a few seconds away from the peel first. The initial burst of the fuel needs to go out and the wood catch before the process of flaming the orange should begin, otherwise, you're catching sulfur smoke on the peel.

            1. re: JMF
              Alcachofa RE: JMF Feb 19, 2013 12:59 PM

              I've flamed a lot of drinks, and never noticed soot! I am careful not to touch the match to the peel. I don't detect any sort of smokey flavor, I think because before the flame I don't "cook" the peel, just get it kind of warm, get it sweating a bit. Maybe I detect a slight caramelized element, but very slight. I will admit I do like doing it more for fun than for any increase in drinkability.

              1. re: Alcachofa
                JMF RE: Alcachofa Aug 1, 2013 07:30 PM

                Getting back to this many months later. You have to make sure you "aim" the flame / oils at the drink. Just flaming it over the drink doesn't means that the oils will land in the drink. If done right it's a big hit of oils and can make a good drink into an awesome one. Or... overpower a more subtle drink. Also the wiping of the rim with the peel is important too. I think it really amps up a Cosmopolitan. (I changed up the recipe for my cosmo's on the bars I work with menus to amp up the flavor to begin with.) I love it with stuirred whiskey drinks. Flamed orange peel is used in just about every one I make unless some other flavor predominates and I go in a different direction with the garnish.

                1. re: JMF
                  Alcachofa RE: JMF Aug 2, 2013 10:59 AM

                  I have done it over an Old Fashioned, but now that you mention "stirred whiskey drinks", I'm wondering why I've never done it over a Manhattan! Next time...

                  How did you change up the Cosmo?

                  1. re: Alcachofa
                    JMF RE: Alcachofa Aug 2, 2013 12:37 PM

                    It's great with a Manhattan and its variations.

                    With the Cosmo I just changed the proportions slightly.

                    Dale DeGroff Cosmopolitan
                    1-1/2 oz. Skyy or Absolut Citron vodka
                    1/2 oz. Cointreau
                    1/4 oz. lime juice
                    1 oz. cranberry juice cocktail

                    Shake on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange peel.

                    Cosmopolitan JMF Re-do
                    1-1/2 oz. Skyy or Absolut Citron vodka
                    3/4 oz. Cointreau
                    3/4 oz. lime juice
                    1 oz. cranberry juice cocktail

                    Shake on ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with flamed orange peel.

                    1. re: JMF
                      yarm RE: JMF Aug 3, 2013 08:07 AM

                      Our soda gun cranberry juice is so dark that these sorts of recipes make the Cosmo just appear wrong (red instead of an attractive pink).

                      The one I go with:
                      2 oz Vodka (we don't have citron)
                      1 oz Triple Sec
                      1/2 oz Lime Juice
                      1/2 oz Cranberry cocktail

                      Might try it with 3/4 oz lime and 1/4 oz cranberry to get it to be pinker and see how it tastes.

            2. yarm RE: The Big Crunch Feb 13, 2013 10:15 AM

              I do agree that flaming peels is impressive stage magic.

              However, when I have used a cigarette lighter to hit only the oils, a small group test could not tell that there was a difference between the regular twist and the flamed one.

              If the peel is then discarded, there is less effect.

              Yes, running the match flame over the peel changes things. You end up with a burnt flavor and sometimes a nasty sulphorous one when the peel is dropped in. Even more distasteful -- whether it is match or lighter -- is the black ring of soot I have been served as it comes off the peel and into the drink.

              Honestly, it is a technique that I would wish go away. I will gladly accept a drink that has a flamed garnish whereas my wife will specifically ask that the garnish not get flamed.


              7 Replies
              1. re: yarm
                zin1953 RE: yarm Feb 14, 2013 07:14 AM

                What type of cigarette lighter?

                1. re: zin1953
                  The Big Crunch RE: zin1953 Feb 14, 2013 07:30 AM

                  When used, I've always seen cheap butane lightes, but the correct protocol, usually followed by places that flame the peel, is for woden matches.

                  1. re: The Big Crunch
                    yarm RE: The Big Crunch Feb 14, 2013 07:46 AM

                    Yes, but the "correct" protocol shouldn't have a litany of negative results like the ring of soot, sulphur added to the drink, etc.

                    There is no correct protocol here. People can't even agree what the correct protocol on how to garnish a Sazerac (drop the peel or don't) without making things into a religious fight. It's a flare bartending trick from the years preceding the craft cocktail movement after all. It's always cited to DeGroff, but that is perhaps the person who brought over this aspect of showmanship from bars making crappy drinks to bars making drinks without sour mix.

                    1. re: yarm
                      JMF RE: yarm Feb 14, 2013 09:44 AM

                      I've read about flaming as early as 1950 for orange peel in cocktails and Lillet. Dale said he first saw it done with lemon peel over espresso at Mama Leone's.

                      1. re: yarm
                        EvergreenDan RE: yarm Feb 14, 2013 04:21 PM

                        I'm with Fred on the sulfur. I never use a match. Remember lighting a match in the bathroom to, uh, disguise the ambient aroma? Why you'd want that anywhere near your drink, I don't know. A match has a pretty strong smell right down to the point where you can't hold it. I'd say butane is the way to go.

                        I don't flame often (ba-ding set that one up), but I use a small butane kitchen torch or a cigar lighter. My second choice would be to break the head off a long wooden match, light it on the stove, then use that. I believe that some cigar smokers use this technique to avoid the sulfur.

                        www.kindredcocktails.com | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

                        1. re: EvergreenDan
                          JMF RE: EvergreenDan Feb 15, 2013 09:15 AM

                          Many serious cigar smokers use a candle to light a cedar splint (strips from the cedar lining of cigar boxes usually), then use that to light the cigar. Or else a high intensity butane lighter.

                  2. re: yarm
                    JMF RE: yarm Aug 1, 2013 07:33 PM

                    Fred, I did a test with Bic lighter flamed orange peel as you describe, with the bartenders I have been training in the two bars I am currently working with, and they could easily say which drink was flamed and which wasn't. I think it is all about how much of the oils make it onto the drink and rim.

                    Some drinks benefit from flaming, some do not. It depends upon the cocktail.

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