Ross Kerslake
The views expressed in db Reader do not represent the views of the drinks business.

Do you dare to flair?

As someone once said “Bartending is like Broadway, but instead of applause you get tips”.

A quick history lesson. Flair bartending has been around since the 1800’s thanks to Jerry “The Professor” Thomas, who was known as the father of American mixology.

His drink “The Blue Blazer” was the first example of flair; it required you to pass flaming whisky between two mixing glass, creating an arc of fire. As you may well be aware, flame burns off alcohol and can alter the flavour: just look at Christmas puddings and brandy. The Martini is also an original flair cocktail too, as one recipe requires you to pour gin or vodka between mixing glasses, in an arc fashion; just like the Blue Blazer, albeit minus the fire.

Fast forward to the 1988 film “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise. It took cocktails from their relatively obscure home with high flying ad men and made it something for everybody to enjoy. But with its glorification of flair, it turned cocktails from classy to tacky, and deep browns and reds became fluffy pink colours and so on.

But how about current flairing? The vigorous shaking of a cocktail could actually be considered flair, because of the visual action and movement. I never considered it as flairing until I was writing this! Even free pouring hints a slight flair method.

Russell “Rockstar” Davis, from RockstarBartender.com mixes a Blue Blazer. Image from http://onemansblog.com

It’s continually fuelled by flair competitions and bars like Covent Garden’s Roadhouse, with bartenders flipping, spinning and twirling with a rock theme, as well as holding their own competitions.

In recent years brands such as Finlandia and SKYY vodka have combined quality mixology with the best of flair. Separate organisations such as the UK Bartenders Guild have also hosted their own competitions. Aside from Roadhouse, flairing is not seen in many bars these days but bartenders are still learning it as a matter of course. It’s more regularly featured in cheap bars and clubs to not only bring in more money, but for its entertainment value. A necessary evil so to speak.

Flair tends to be found in specific bars, where the girls are dancing on the bar and the cocktails are a bright, dazzling colour! In many cases it’s too tacky for higher end bars.

While doing the rounds among my bartender friends, it became apparent that flair isn’t highly thought of among those in high-end bars; saying this, basic bar tricks are a great way of keeping customers engaged. I’ve also noticed that some bars now do flair and cocktail masterclasses, so an everyday person can feel what it’s like to be behind a bar. Unfortunately it’s something that has become the activity of choice for hen parties, causing it to further slip away from its classy roots.

Depending on what circles you roll in, it determines how you perceive flair. Myself like many others, whose attention is on the drink itself and whether it’s made correctly, don’t care for flair. Whereas those with no specific knowledge of mixology are easily amused because it’s fun and exciting which is what cocktails are meant to be. It’s only the ultra-serious professionals that think drinks should be all “muddling butterfly wings with unicorn tears”, as my bartender friend Jake said.

I feel flair in its current incarnation is “as riveting as watching paint dry”. It doesn’t add anything extra to what I’m drinking and in many cases it has ruined drinks. It’s like going to an alcohol circus, but a big top circus is cheaper.

Something else I recently realised is that molecular mixology is a type of flair too. Using things like dry ice and smoking guns not only looks exciting, you actually change the the character of what you’re making; literally changing it on the molecular level, something typically part of science experiments.

I recently attended a Stoli Elit masterclass where a twist on the standard Martini had the Elit smoked with applewood chips. This was eventually layered on the martini, so it smoked while you drank it. But don’t take my word for it, head down to Purl in Marylebone and enjoy the show!

Does flair have a place in modern cocktail bars? No. Does the original use of flair have a place in modern cocktail bars? Yes, hell yes! Take the Blue Blazer method for example. If this style was used in bars I’d be very open and definitely entertained. It’s not only visually exciting (more so than bottle spinning), it actually adds something to the drink itself. Oh, and if you want to see some fire flair, head to Zenna bar and ask Dan, he won’t mind at all!

2 Responses to “Do you dare to flair?”

  1. andy mil says:

    ross very nice article, I very much enjoyed reading it. I do agree with you to all but one point.

    For cocktail culture to grow and expand we need the upper and lower classes of the culture to be defined. With out a cocktail culture that appeals to the masses we will never get the notice of the main stream. With out that notice are humble, but yet unrecognised trade will remain un praised.

    flair is a perfect stepping stone to getting some one involved in the art of bar tending; that might never of taken two seconds to think about it.
    At the end of the day you can have a great drink in a rubbish bar and never go back, how ever you could have a rubbish drink in a great bar and go back every week.

    For those of us who’s lively hood is supported directly on the back of the trade we should praise the commercialisation on the trade in stead on stone walling it and it’s consumers.

    p.s jamie oliver is worth £150 million. and he is as main stream as they get but still has his soul and reputation.

    pave the future in stead off praising the passed.
    much love
    Andy Mil

  2. Simon Soar says:

    While at imbibe 2012 i watched a presentation by Nic St Jean on flair. I have always been on the mixing sid eof my career and had previously not held too much stock in flairing behind the bar, that was until Nic’s lecture. Nic talked about the definition of flair and where it sits in bar society. During the talk he expressed the need to remove specific concepts of flair, opening the description up to include the simplest things like how you move the spoon while stirring. This made me realise that when talking about the term ‘flair’ we should be a little more explanatory about the context it is being expressed in. if you work behind a bar, you almost without doubt, flair. flair is merely doing something with a little bit more than the basics required. even a verbal presentation can contain some nuances of flair. it is what allows us to be better than a robotic service dispensing drinks

    Great Article

    Simon

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