The French word brûlot originally meant “fire ship.” Back in the days when all ships were made of wood, it was a reasonably common military tactic to fill an old ship with combustible materials, set it alight, and, when it was really roaring, send it out among the ships of one’s enemies, hoping that they would catch fire, which they often did. While brûlot can still refer to a fire ship, it came in time to refer to another combustible material in flames, this time brandy.
It is the flaming brandy definition of brûlot, of course, that gives us café brûlot, that sensational showstopper of New Orleans origin, where flaming brandy is the big attention-getter. There are a number of tales regarding the invention of this theatrical beverage, including one story that involves the pirate Jean Lafitte. However, somewhat more reasonably perhaps, the venerable restaurant Antoine’s, founded in 1840 and the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, lays claim to the invention. Whichever tale is true, the drink was being served at Antoine’s by the 1890s. Continue reading