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View Full Version : Can you set fire to vodka?


Tappi
05-14-2006, 07:23 PM
I imagine that many threads on these forums started as a result of conversations in the pub, well this is one of those. I had a bet with one of my friends that vodka would catch fire in just the same way that other spirits did, I reasoned that seeing as brandy catches fire (based on numerous Christmas pudding displays) and sambuca catches fire (as it is traditional to set fire to sambuca before drinking it) then there was no reason that vodka wouldn't, given it's high alcohol content.

I attempted to settle the bet by buying a shot of vodka from the bar and setting fire to it but the glass it came in was quite large, large enough to hold a double and a mixer with ice. So, I had trouble lighting it since getting the lighter close enough to the vodka involved burning my thumb. Long story short(ish) the test was not conclusive, I still insisted that if you got a shot glass you could set fire to the vodka quite easily. So what is the Straight Dope on this? Can you set fire to vodka in the same way you can with other spirits and if not why not?

Dunderman
05-14-2006, 07:26 PM
If someone gives me a few safety tips I'm ready to perform the experiment as soon as I get home from work.

Northern Piper
05-14-2006, 07:33 PM
I reasoned that seeing as brandy catches fire (based on numerous Christmas pudding displays)When I make a flaming Christmas pudding, I heat the whisky in the microwave first, to just below boiling. That increases the alcohol vapour above the surface, and makes it easier to light. I would think you could do the same with vodka.

Can you light brandy or whisky for a Christmas pudding at room temperature? I've never tried that.

Tappi
05-14-2006, 07:41 PM
Can you light brandy or whisky for a Christmas pudding at room temperature? I've never tried that.

You definitely can do that, unless the brandy is heated by the temperature of the pudding before lighting, I know Christams pudding is normally very hot in my house so it is reasonable to assume some heating occurs before the brandy is set on fire.

bouv
05-14-2006, 07:43 PM
At room temp I'm pretty sure you can't. Unless the alcohol is warmed (ie, alcohol vapor in the air), or has a very high sugar content, the alcohol needs to be 100 proof or higher to light.

silenus
05-14-2006, 07:48 PM
That's nailed it. You have to have sufficient alcohol in the liquor, and it has to be warm/hot enough to evaporate the alcohol so you can ignite the vapor. Note that the flash point of ethanol is 55º F, while the ignition point is 686º F. Big difference.

Squink
05-14-2006, 07:53 PM
Course, if you hold your butane lighter up against that puddle of vodka on your desk, the flame will warm the vodka until it ignites. After that, the alcohol is self-warming.
80 to 86 proof liquors are at the lower limit of flammability at room temp. You can get them to burn, but you have to work at it.

Tappi
05-14-2006, 07:58 PM
From looking on drinksmixer.com it seems that the alcohol content of vodka and sambuca is very similar (40% cf. 42%) but sambuca contains ~11g per oz. of sugar compared to 0g in vodka. Is this sufficient to be the cause of sambuca catching light at room temperature?

Also, assuming that all that is needed is for vodka to be heated to some given temperature before the vapours light would it be safe to say that a flame applied to the surface (from a lighter, for example) of vodka would eventually raise the temperature high enough to cause ignition? If so I guess I could still win my bet seeing as I didn't stipulate how long the flame could be applied before ignition occured.

Tappi
05-14-2006, 08:01 PM
I guess Squink's reply answers my question, I really should learn to preview my posts first.

silenus
05-14-2006, 08:02 PM
Doubtful. You would probably be vaporizing and burning off the alcohol in the flame. I don't think you would get a typical blue flame like you do with Sambuca. Of course, Sambuca also has those nice burnable sugars.

As a test, I just lit a shooter of Stoli with a match. I warmed it in the microwave for 10 seconds, then applied flame.

Khadaji
05-14-2006, 08:04 PM
I would have sworn to you that this was possible. I have a vivid memory of doing flaming shots in college.

But in the interest of science, I went and tried it. I used Finlandia vodka and a shot glass bought in the UK at Stone Henge. It is roughly square (rather than round.) I filled it to the rim. I remember my roommate saying that you had to slush the vodka around to make it volitile. I did that. I used a regular cigarette lighter.

The flame caught and ran the length of one side. However, when I pulled the lighter away it immediately went out. I put my finger in and slushed it around a little more. I tried again. Same results (flame caught, went the length of one side, but went out when I pulled the light away.)

I tried it one more time with the same results. This is frustrating because I remember very vividly doing this. In my frustration I threw back the jigger of vodka and it now resides happily in what passes for my stomach.

I suppose in the interest of science I should do this several more times, but I have to work tomorrow... besides I'm really a beer drinker anyway.

AWB
05-14-2006, 08:24 PM
Once at WVU-area bar, we were doing flaming shots with a spiced rum that was as potent as was allowed. I've heard (generally) that if you can light a liquor that it's about 150 proof.

ultrafilter
05-14-2006, 09:22 PM
Once at WVU-area bar, we were doing flaming shots with a spiced rum that was as potent as was allowed. I've heard (generally) that if you can light a liquor that it's about 150 proof.

As bouv mentioned, alcohol that's 100 proof or higher will burn readily. That's actually where the notion of proof comes from--if the drink is flammable, that was considered 100% proof that it was alcoholic. I could've sworn that Cecil addressed this, but search isn't coming up with anything.

David Simmons
05-14-2006, 10:57 PM
I would have sworn to you that this was possible. I have a vivid memory of doing flaming shots in college.

But in the interest of science, I went and tried it. I used Finlandia vodka and a shot glass bought in the UK at Stone Henge. It is roughly square (rather than round.) I filled it to the rim. I remember my roommate saying that you had to slush the vodka around to make it volitile. I did that. I used a regular cigarette lighter.

The flame caught and ran the length of one side. However, when I pulled the lighter away it immediately went out. I put my finger in and slushed it around a little more. I tried again. Same results (flame caught, went the length of one side, but went out when I pulled the light away.)

I tried it one more time with the same results. This is frustrating because I remember very vividly doing this. In my frustration I threw back the jigger of vodka and it now resides happily in what passes for my stomach.

I suppose in the interest of science I should do this several more times, but I have to work tomorrow... besides I'm really a beer drinker anyway.Say you want to make a flaming dessert using vodka. What is done is to pour vodka over the dessert. Then pour some vodka into a table spoon, hold the lighter under the spoon to warm up the vodka and get some alcohol fumes started above the liquid. Then light the fumes and when they are going nicely pour the flaming spoon contents on the dessert. Voilà.

Liquid vodka will not burn any more than liquid gasoline will. You need fumes and a proper fuel-air mixture.

Malacandra
05-15-2006, 06:37 AM
As bouv mentioned, alcohol that's 100 proof or higher will burn readily. That's actually where the notion of proof comes from--if the drink is flammable, that was considered 100% proof that it was alcoholic. I could've sworn that Cecil addressed this, but search isn't coming up with anything.

Anecdotally: Mix your liquor with gunpowder and apply flame. If it burns steadily, that's proof spirit. If it goes out, it's under proof. If it explodes, it's over proof. (Best done with teaspoon-sized samples, obviously.)

In English usage, 70 degrees proof ("% proof" is a barbarism) is 40% alcohol. Americans are different.

vetbridge
05-15-2006, 08:11 AM
I attempted to settle the bet by buying a shot of vodka from the bar and setting fire to it but the glass it came in was quite large, large enough to hold a double and a mixer with ice.

Spill a bit on the bar and try to light it.

Doctor Jackson
05-15-2006, 08:42 AM
As bouv mentioned, alcohol that's 100 proof or higher will burn readily. That's actually where the notion of proof comes from--if the drink is flammable, that was considered 100% proof that it was alcoholic. I could've sworn that Cecil addressed this, but search isn't coming up with anything.
Not exactly. Burning was a part of the proofing process for alcohols, especially the home made kind, but there was more to it than "will it burn". 100 proof means (in the US) that the drink is 50% alcohol by volume. All you know if the libation burns is that it is somewhere between 50% and 100% alcohol - not much "proofing" there. The distillers needed to know how close to 50% (100 proof) their mixture was. As stated at Word Detective (http://word-detective.com/020403.html) (scroll down to the article "Light My Fire"):
Equal amounts of gunpowder and the alcoholic brew were combined and a flame was applied. If the concoction didn't burn, it was "underproof" and contained too little alcohol. Too bright or too yellowish a flame and it was "overproof" and too strong. Just right -- 50% alcohol -- and the mixture burned with a steady blue flame.
The "proof" was not the mere existence of a flame, but the color and character of the flame.

spingears
05-15-2006, 12:48 PM
I imagine that many threads on these forums started as a result of conversations in the pub, well this is one of those. I had a bet with one of my friends that vodka would catch fire in just the same way that other spirits did, I reasoned that seeing as brandy catches fire (based on numerous Christmas pudding displays) and sambuca catches fire (as it is traditional to set fire to sambuca before drinking it) then there was no reason that vodka wouldn't, given it's high alcohol content.

I attempted to settle the bet by buying a shot of vodka from the bar and setting fire to it but the glass it came in was quite large, large enough to hold a double and a mixer with ice. So, I had trouble lighting it since getting the lighter close enough to the vodka involved burning my thumb. Long story short(ish) the test was not conclusive, I still insisted that if you got a shot glass you could set fire to the vodka quite easily. So what is the Straight Dope on this? Can you set fire to vodka in the same way you can with other spirits and if not why not?As usual.

It all depends.

Vodka which can range from 35% to 70% alcohol!

Muad'Dib
05-15-2006, 05:41 PM
I used to be a bartender. During one boring night I tried setting fire to all of the different alcohols. Everything 80 proof and above (including different types of vodka) all lit up just fine.

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