It’s one of the most well known and consumed spirits in the world - good ol’ trusty vodka.
This classic spirit is so versatile that you may even own some even if you don’t even drink it - and for these reasons, vodka is one of the most widely sold alcohols and can be found in homes all across the States.
But if you like a drink or two, you have probably ordered vodka and a mixer at a bar before. You may even have ordered a shot - and then watched in horror as the bartender pulls out a blowtorch and sets your vodka shot on fire.
Dude - what?
Since when can Vodka catch fire, and is it even safe to consume like that?
The History And Properties Of Vodka
Vodka has been around for centuries, but accounts differ if it originated in Russia or Poland or even Sweden. It was originally used as a medicine, until people found they kind of liked the side effects and started to drink it recreationally.
Now, its most popular use is as a spirit in alcoholic beverages, most commonly mixed with fruit juices or colas, and features in cocktails like White Russian and Bloody Mary. Due to being a neutral spirit, vodka is favorite amongst bartenders to use as a good base in a lot of cocktails.
Other than being consumed, vodka does have its other uses. Like we said earlier, vodka was originally used as a medicine.
Studies show that a moderate intake of vodka can help prevent heart disease, and help with high fevers and even toothaches. Vodka also makes for a really good cleaner as it can help eliminate odors and act as a disinfect.
However, you have seen vodka be used as a substitute antiseptic to clean wounds (especially in movies) but this isn’t recommended.
Alcohol can cause tissue damage to open wounds as well as kill any germs, and while vodka is an antiseptic, it is better used to disinfect equipment used to treat a wound rather than the wound itself.
It’s an incredibly pure and strong form of alcohol - plain old vodka is quite literally just ethanol and water. And ethanol? Well, ethanol is a highly flammable liquid - but it’s watered down in drinking vodka so it is not as flammable.
Is Vodka Flammable?
Vodka itself is not considered a flammable liquid - but it can catch fire.
For a liquid to be considered flammable, it needs to be able to ignite easily at ambient temperatures.
As ethanol is considered flammable, the more alcohol found in a beverage, the easier it will light on fire - but spirits like vodka are not sold at a level that is enough to be considered flammable by itself.
Vodka is generally sold at 40% alcohol (80 proof) so it is capable of lighting on fire, but not enough to be classed as flammable.
If you purchase a vodka with a higher alcohol level, say 50% (100 proof), that vodka is considered more likely to be flammable and will light with more ease. Basically, the higher the alcohol content in a liquid, the bigger the flame.
Usually, you are only able to purchase vodka at 50% ethanol content (100 proof) but you should always be cautious when handling vodka around a flame.
So all in all, vodka is not flammable but it can catch fire due to the fact it contains ethanol. However, this means that when vodka is dried, the alcohol in the beverage evaporates and can no longer catch fire.
Dude, My Vodka Is On Fire!
So, why has your bartender lit your shot on fire?
This is a part of something called ‘flair bartending’ - which is when the bartender makes a show out of making the drink you have ordered. Flair bartending includes juggling bottles, doing a little dance, and even setting your drink on fire.
A bartender will pull out a specialised blowtorch or a really long lighter, and light your vodka on fire. This creates a blue flame that doesn’t last very long but looks really cool.
So what does that do to your drink?
Well, not much. Like we said - it’s mostly for show.
Sometimes, burning alcohol will condense the flavors to make the drink taste richer. This is because the flame burns the alcohol to last, lowering the liquid content of the drink.
This is why drinks like a Flaming Doctor Pepper are lit on fire, but for your vodka shot? It’s just to bring some flair to your drinking experience.
You can still drink flaming vodka, so long as the flame has died. If you try and drink the shot while it is still on fire, you’re only going to end up burning yourself or risk your hair catching fire. Wait until the flame has died and the drink has cooled, then you’re golden.
We do not recommend you trying to light your vodka shots on fire at home, however. These flair bartenders are trained professionals who know what they are doing and how to react if something goes wrong.
Unless you have this kind of training, then it’s best to just drink your vodka as you usually would and avoid trying to do any dancing tricks involving fire.
Fire is still fire, no matter how large the flame is. It only takes a few seconds for a flame to get out of hand and spread.
What About Molotov Cocktails?
You’ve been watching too many action movies, haven’t you?
Molotov cocktails are a form of improvised incendiary weapons. You’ve probably seen them used in movies, video games, or in real-life footage of riots as weapons. They are commonly seen as symbols of revolution and anarchy.
They’re made of a breakable glass bottle containing a flammable substance and a cloth used as a wick. They are illegal - so don’t go getting any ideas.
Well, some molotov cocktails are created using alcohol as the flammable substance. Yes, vodka can be used just like other spirits, but it’s not the best substance to use in a molotov cocktail.
Substances like gasoline are used more often as they are more flammable and likely to explode compared to vodka.
Like we said before, vodka is capable of catching fire but it’s not considered highly flammable as the ethanol content is diluted with water. The vodka-based molotov cocktails you see in movies and television shows are most likely greatly exaggerated for effect.
They may look cool in video games, but real life molotov cocktails are classed as weaponry and are illegal to manufacture and use. Do not try to make your own.
So what is the final answer to the question surrounding vodka’s flammability?
Vodka is not considered a flammable liquid. It is a diluted version of ethanol, which is flammable on its own. However, its dilution means that it is able to catch fire but not very easily. The blue flame vodka produces does not burn very intensely nor does it last for very long.
Although you may have seen vodka set alight before - whether it's a shot at a bar or a molotov cocktail on television - this does not mean you should go handling an open flame around your bottle of Absolut.
Fire is dangerous and should not be played with unless you are specifically trained for such circumstances.
Even then, bartenders can end up burned after playing with fire, and some bars have even been shut down for endangering their patrons by not properly following fire codes when it comes to flaming drinks.
Just because vodka is not considered flammable, this does not mean you can fool around with vodka and flames. Leave the tricks to the bartenders, and drink your vodka flame-free.