Vegefeuer. It’s hard not to know what to do with this. It’s hard to pronounce; coming out of the bottle one’s not sure what taste to expect; having tasted, it’s hard to know what to do with it. From color, to aroma, to style… it’s an enigma in a bottle.
As it happens, Vegefeuer is also astonishingly good.
Here at Proof66, we’ve tasted scores of bottles in front of groups of people and we usually end up with a half-bottle or so left over to send home with someone. This night, we had a liter of Vegefeuer provided to us by the producers (33% more than the typical bottle in the states) and it was drained to nothing before half the night was over. Others, finding it empty, were incensed that we let someone drink it all up. To top it all off, it was a Frenchman finishing off the last drink of this German liqueur.
It’s that good.
A visiting German assured us that it should be pronounced “FAY-guh-FOY-yuh. The term “vegefeuer,” we are told, translates from Germans as the fires of purgatory (see also fegefeuer). This is a descriptive title because the liqueur clocks in at 110 proof and can be lit on fire. In fact, this is the recommended approach to drinking it straight: "burnt" vs "unburnt." Unburnt, we found people describing it as “good” and and “really good” along with flavors of “wood,” “chocolate,” and “anise.” Unburnt, this is a perfectly good herbal liqueur. “Burnt,” in our case, means we lit the liqueur with a match and let it burn for a timed 45 seconds in a shot glass. (Note: if you try this at home, use a cylindrical shot glass that fills to the rim; otherwise, you’ll superheat the glass between the level of liqueur and the top of the glass, causing it to crack.) This has the effect of burning off some of the pure ethanol and caramelizing some of the herbs. “Burnt” (or “flambéed” as our party would have it) brought out an entirely different liqueur. "Very good" turned into "awesome" for many. It was less stiff and more intensely herbal. The flavor profile changes entirely. The decision regarding which version was better was split down the middle—but cool that you can get two such strikingly different tastes out of the same bottle. What is super-cool is watching 18 flaming shot glasses served in the evening hours at a party. Spectacular in the presentation and all agreed that Vegefeuer is easily sipped warmed and burnt straight out of the shot glass.
We tried Vegefeuer in a Cow Fire cocktail. This calls for 2 parts buttermilk (we used cream), 2 parts passion fruit nectar (we used guava), 1 part Vegefeueur, and a dash of grenadine. The Fire Cow ended up being a kind of savory, dessert drink that we found appropriate for a swim-up bar. In the right setting, people felt that they could drink it all day long and never look back.
Going all the way to the other side, we tried Vegefeuer in a Blood Bound cocktail. This called for 2 parts Vegefeuer, 2 parts bourbon (we used Buffalo Trace), and 1 part sweet vermouth (we used Lillet Rouge). “This is a cocktail person’s drink” declared one person. And indeed it is—a Manhattan styled drink that has some reminiscent quality of a properly prepared Sazerac with an absinthe rinse. The herbal accents Vegefeuer has on the bourbon are lovely and will delight any committed whiskey drinker. Even the sweet-tooths that preferred the milkshake styled Cow Fire agreed that the red concoction in their martini glass was equally good.
For those who would keep score on such things, we tried the liqueur in four ways: straight unburnt, straight burnt and warmed, in a sweet creamy drink, and in a stiff whiskey cocktail. Vegefeuer improved every setting. And the cool factor of having something that is designed to be set on fire puts it right over the top. Vegefeuer is a liqueur we can give our unqualified recommendation to: it’s something that belongs in most bars and can find a home in many different cocktails. If you have any way to acquire a bottle: get it.