Behind the Bar The Business of the Bar

What to Serve When You Don’t Serve Fireball

Whether they serve it or not, bartenders have to address the public’s massive thirst for Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. While hotel bar Grange Restaurant & Bar in California’s capital city Sacramento has a large government clientele during the week, the weekend wedding parties often request Fireball, but Ryan Seng doesn’t offer it for quality and flavor reasons. “We tell people we just don’t carry it, but we make our own if they would like to try it,” he says.

His recipe is a syrup made from dried red chilies, cinnamon and half a habanero pepper, added to a bottle of Evan Williams bourbon. He says his customers, “Love this even more, and it gets the job done.”

In response to the Fireball craze, many bartenders have created a version of a spicy cinnamon and whiskey drink. Robert Sickler of Finn’s Manor in Denver serves the Huck Finn’s Fire made with Old Forester bourbon, cinnamon, vanilla, habanero, jalapeño and Thai chilies and ghost peppers. “Yes, it is hot,” warns the menu.

Christopher Sinclair of Sacramento’s The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar says he’s tried a few Fireball-alternative iterations. For a recent variation he melted Hot Tamales candies into a syrup, then added to whiskey. Before that, they had a bottle of Peligroso Cinnamon Tequila sitting in the well with a piece of masking tape that had “Fireball” written on it.

Peligroso’s not the only product offered as a Fireball alternative. Many classy cocktail spots serve bartender-favorite Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur to their heat-seeking patrons.

But one of the most clever variations comes from H. Joseph Ehrmann of San Francisco’s Elixir, who says “The real reason why we don’t sell Fireball is not because of any negative aspect of the product. I don’t find Fireball drinkers to be feverishly brand-loyal to it, which is why so many knock-off products work.”

He continues, “We have a drink on the back bar simply marked ‘Cojones Grandes.’ It serves a greater purpose: depletion of non-moving inventory. Essentially we take bottles of whatever we need to get rid of and come up with a batch of something that mimics several trends and still tastes good: a barrel aged spirit, a liqueur, cinnamon sticks, jalapeños and habaneros and maple syrup.”

“By observing that the people like pepper heat, cinnamon spice and barrel-aged spirit, you can come up with many forms of that combination and they still love it,” he says. “It’s a quick party shot, not haute mixology.”