One of my favorite goofy ideas that made it into print was having a bartender make me a cocktail inspired by my favorite 20th century graphic artist. And it wasn't just any bartender — it was the great Schuyler Hunton, who had just won Bombay Sapphire's Most Imaginative Bartender global competition. (You can read all about it here.)
That was in 2016. After last year's Most Imaginative Bartender competition rolled around (it's known in the biz as MIB, which I always mistake for Men In Black), I was once again offered a chance to chat with the North American winner. This time it was Annie Williams Pierce from Columbus, OH, the first female winner in MIB's 11-year history. That's pretty lame, I thought — why did it take 11 years when there are so many supremely talented female bartenders out there? Thanks but no thanks, I said.
Until I had an SMH moment and realized, wait a minute here. I've got the chance to have a bespoke cocktail made for me by North America's officially recognized most imaginative bartender! Why pass it up? I love flaming cocktails — I'm of the belief (not always borne out in practice) that any drink can be improved with a float of overproof spirits and a match. The proverbial lightning bolt of inspiration struck — I'd ask her to create a flaming cocktail which I would name... wait for it... Girl On Fire! (If Annie didn't like the name, I was prepared to blame Alicia Keys.)
And so an idea was born. Truth be told, I expected some kind of wild tiki creation piled high with crushed ice and topped with mint sprigs and fruit and... well, something combustible. But Annie Williams Pierce isn't a US Bartenders Guild-certified imaginative bartender for nothing. I gave her no guidelines except for the fire part, so she decided to go with a spirit-forward cocktail, totally devoid of fruit juices and syrups. "[Tiki] is so out of my comfort zone," she said. "This is what I like to drink, it’s what I gravitate towards.So I was like, what if I just do a stirred flaming cocktail instead?" I love me some tiki, but I also love a good strong spiritous libation, so I enthusiastically assented
A combination of gin (Bombay Sapphire, natch), cognac, Benedictine, Campari (for my drink, Annie used Martini Bitter, which has a little less bite than Campari), and vermouth is about as un-tiki as it gets. Which is precisely what makes it so cool. This is a cold-weather tiki drink, perfect for evenings when there's a chill in the air — or as Annie puts it, "I want it to be a drink on fire that you can drink by the fire.... Being wrapped up in a scarf and sitting by the bonfire is how I would want to drink this drink."
After a vigorous stir in an ice-filled shaker, Annie strained it into a rocks glass with ice and administered the coup de grace, a twist of orange peel which she turned pith side up and filled with overproof rum. Here she is lighting up her creation:
There was no raging inferno atop the glass, but it did create a nice little flame that lasted a good few minutes. When I mentioned that standard operating procedure for many flaming cocktails calls for lime shells, she explained, "I think orange is perfect with fire. It caramelizes, because it has a lower acid rate — it creates this burnt candy, as opposed to lemon and lime." And it's true, it really did contribute significantly to the finished product, both with aroma and taste.
I'd love to show you the Girl On Fire in all its blazing glory, but all the photos we took came out looking like this:
So, yeah, we have to work on the pyrotechnics a bit. But the drink itself is impeccable — rich, herbaceous, and fruity, but think darker notes like plum, apricot, and of course candied orange peel rather than tiki's bright tropical fruit flavors. It's a drink to sip slowly and savor. And no straw required. Just remember to extinguish the flame before drinking, assuming you want to keep your upper lip. Here's the recipe:
Girl On Fire by Annie Williams Pierce
1.25oz Bombay Sapphire gin
1oz sweet vermouth (Annie used Martini Rubino)
0.5oz Campari (Annie used Martini Bitter, which is pretty close)
0.5oz cognac (Annie used D'ussé VSOP, but pretty much any cognac will do)
Combine all ingredients in a mixing vessel with ice, stir well. Strain into an old fashioned glass with one large ice cube. Express an orange twist over the cocktail and then place the twist upside down on top of the drink. Add a full dropper of ovenproof rum to the pith side of the twist, and set alight!!