The Drinking Trick That Ruined A South African Relationship

I did warn the guy…

Time To Read: 10 mins | August 3, 2017

Egypt has many virtues, but the late night bar scene is not one of them. I spent two weeks in the country and was forced to do all my drinking in Airbnb bedrooms – when you catch a glance of yourself in the mirror wearing nothing but boxers and holding a bottle of cheap white wine you know you’re going to finish in a single night, it’s time to change nations.

Luckily, Cape Town is a more accommodating scene for booze. Long Street in particular is stacked full of lively open-floor bars that stay open until sunrise. I wouldn’t disrespect Bourbon Street by calling the two equals, but Austin’s 8th St. or Nashville’s Broadway doesn’t seem an unfair comparison.

Because of my social drought in Egypt, I was bullish on partying for my first night in South Africa. I arrived on a Friday evening, dropped my bags off at the hotel, and marched into night determined to make new friends. Which is not something I do often – I’m a dedicated introvert. Pleasant and charming enough, I’ve been told, but given my druthers while at your house party, I’m hanging out with the cat and watching TV with the bottle of liquor I swiped from the cabinet when you weren’t looking.


Still, shove enough booze in me and I can socialize well enough. 

I mingled with a few groups of kids (these days defined as anyone under the age of 25) sharing drinks and inappropriate jokes. One local couple was even kind enough to provide an Afrikan lesson and write down the basics on the back of a receipt. They actually taught me how to say, “Let me into your pleasure cave,” but thankfully for my mother, I forgot the translation almost immediately.

It was a good night. I drank slightly more than medically advisable and made more friends than I did in a half-month of Egypt. Thing is, I also might have ruined a relationship.

I was standing at the bar, trying and failing to get the male server’s attention. Judging by the sequence in which he took orders, the amount of time you’d been waiting was irrelevant; cup size took priority.

Because I’m a training bra at best, I stood there for a good long time, and so got to witness a man and his date (Cs, because I know you’re wondering) receive their flaming shots. They laughed, toasted, blew ‘em out and threw them back.

Understand that established couples do not order flaming shots. Nobody likes a measure of liquor on fire. If you and your SO are comfortable with each other and this isn’t some sort of party or vacation, you order tequila or whiskey or whatever. Fire on a cocktail is like oversized rims on a Honda Accord – good for surface-level show, but two seconds after first glance everyone knows you’re an amateur.

My Sherlock Holmes deductions combined with my BAC to overcome my anti-sociability and initiate a conversation with the two new lovebirds. I was gratified to learn that yes, this was their second date, but then horrified to find out that the man actually thought that B-51 he just ordered was masculine. “Love me a hot shot,” he bragged like a twelve-year old smoking hemp.


Because I’m an asshole I replied, “You want to do something really crazy?” And he, trying to impress his dubious date, quickly replied yes.

— alright, listen up. If you have a history of bad decisions, stop reading now. I’m only explaining this for the edification of the respectable masses. You should under no circumstances actually try what I’m about to describe. No good will come of it. Go read Buzzfeed or your horoscope or something. Seriously. Stop now. Because a bouncer who used to work for me taught me this move on a Sunday afternoon, and he was in jail by dinner.

What you’re never going to do is ask for a snifter of 151. A snifter, BTW, is that tiny fancy goblet that’s supposed to be used for brandy – the wide base of the chalice allows the liquor lots of contact with the air, creating more aroma, but the narrow top condenses the fumes to make the scent more potent. Hence ‘snifter’.

This shape also helps if you want to ruin you life. When your shot of over proof liquor comes, light it on fire. Anything over 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume, or ABV), is flammable, but the effect is much grander above 120 proof or so, and 151 – named such because of its liquor content — is the most commonly stocked super-liquor in bars.

After the liquid is burning, put your palm over the glass’ opening and seal it shut. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you. You’ll feel a little heat at first but liquor doesn’t burn too hot (yes, fires have different temperatures), and besides, the flame will be extinguished in a few seconds. As you were taught in elementary school, fire requires oxygen, and your hand is now preventing any more oxygen from feeding the flame.

A fun side effect of this method is the vacuum. Once you see the flame go out, all the oxygen inside the snifter has been wiped out. So, because science, you can pick your hand up off the table and the glass will stick to your palm. Feel free to casually wave this in your drunk friend’s faces like a magic trick — but seriously, that’s the last entertaining part of this manuever.

There’s no oxygen left in the sealed-shut snifter, but now all that air space is filled with vaporized alcohol. That liquor you just burned up didn’t disappear, it just turned into a gas.


Quick biology lesson: the fastest way to get something into your blood system is through the lungs. The best way to illustrate this fact – and make this story even more detestable to conservative Americans – is with marijuana…

If you eat a pot brownie, you won’t feel the effects for an hour or so. The substances have to be digested and go through multiple organs and bodily systems before reaching your bloodstream, and things only get fun and/or terrible once a drug is in your blood. But if you smoke weed, the feeling is almost instantaneous. That’s because there’s no processing system between the lungs and blood. Whatever you breathe is kicked into your bloodstream 100x faster than whatever you swallow.

Alcohol — if you haven’t figured out where this is going yet — is usually swallowed. And alcohol is usually ingested at around 5% ABV (beer) or 12% ABV (wine). Taking a shot, which most of us only do a couple times a session and only on big nights out, usually runs about 35% ABV. But even then, that little glass of Patron usually has to be digested, processed, and passed through multiple organs before making its way to your bloodstream.

The snifter sealed to your palm, meanwhile, is full of 75% ABV fumes. Meaning a concentration greater than two regular shots that, when you gently peel off part of your hand and inhale, won’t slowly work their way through your digestive system. They launch simultaneously & instantaneously into your blood stream. And when you complete the trick by drinking the leftover 151 immediately after, you’re guaranteeing that the skull-shattering wave of nauseating drunkenness isn’t going away anytime soon.

Like I said, the day I first witnessed someone try this – a 250lb Mexican security guard – he was paying bail before the night was out. And on the very few occasions I’ve described the process to other friends, no one has been stupid enough to try it.

Until my first night in Cape Town. Thankfully, the punch the guy threw an hour later didn’t seriously hurt the kid, but it did cause his date to start crying and grab a taxi home. I’m sure witnesses who watched my demonstration would hold me accountable, but I didn’t wait to find out — I promptly threw cash on the bar and left for greener pastures. In this case meaning a place where I hadn’t just ruined a couple and gotten the cops called.

I generally relish my role as a bad influence, but this is one of those times where I’d appreciate it if you never ever listen to me. Please, forget you ever read this. For the sake of your wallet, rap sheet, and relationship.


photo: i’m still not sure what a lightie is but i’ve tried using it conversation. i get confused looks. bar in cape town, south africa


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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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1 Comment

  1. Sian

    This story though? I am from South Africa, nice to see you visiting our side of the world? good writing??


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