Some shots are pure liquor others are mixed by shaking. And the B-52 is created by layering three different types of alcohol on top of each other. With the help of a bar spoon and a steady hand, bartenders can layer the three ingredients due to different densities. -Starting with the first layer, the densest of them, to the top layer with the lowest density.
By the way, the two lower layers are also part of another famous shot. Coffee liqueur and Bailey's are also the ingredients to make a Baby Guinness. The B-52 extends this proven recipe by adding Grand Marnier. Flawlessly layered, the B-52 is the perfect crowd-pleaser. It looks fun, tastes sweet, and is easy to drink -which often leads to multiple rounds of shots.
So let's look at how you nail this shot and learn a bit about the history of the B-52.
History of the B-52
The history of the B-52 is not entirely clear. A bartender named Peter Fich is most likely the inventor of this layered shot. It seems he invented the recipe when working at Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, Canada.
Fich had a preference to name his drink creations after bands. Therefore, the three-layer shot owes its name to an American New Wave band from Athens, Georgia. Still, the prominent claim that the drink is named after the US US B-52 Stratofortress bomber is somewhat correct. That is because the band B-52 borrowed their name from the bomber as its nose shape resembled the haircut of Cindy Wilson, singer of the band.
Even though the story is unaccounted for in writing, it makes sense in the historical context. The B52 didn't make it into Jones' Complete Barguide from 1977, the most complete drink collection at the time, written by Stan Jones. But it made its debut in cocktail books ten years later in another comprehensive drink book, named The Bartender's Cherry by Mark Torre. Consequently, the drink probably was invented somewhere between 1977 and 1987.
What does the B52 taste like?
The taste of a B52 best is described as caramel with hints of orange. The blend of coffee liqueur and Irish Cream creates a mix of flavors, pretty close to toffee or caramel. And Grand Marnier adds a layer of citrusy orange notes.
The simplicity and the presentation of the shot led to countless riffs on the classic recipe. Bartenders started adding ingredients, replacing ingredients, and even putting ingredients on fire. To get an idea of how many B-52 variations there are, here's a list:
- B-51: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, Frangelico
- Flaming B-52: B-52 with the top layer set on fire
- B-52 with Bomb Bay Doors: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, Grand Marnier, Bombay Sapphire Gin
- B-52 Frozen: B-52 blended with crushed ice
- B-52 On a Mission: Flaming B-52 with a top layer of Bacardi 151 instead of Grand Marnier
- B-52 in the Desert: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Grand Marnier, Tequila
- B-53: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Sambuca, Grand Marnier
- B-54: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, Amaretto liqueur
- B-55: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream,
- B-57: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Peppermint schnapps, Grand Marnier
- B-156: Cocktail-sized version of a B-52, three times larger than the shot (3 x 52 = 156)
- B-5200: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, Navy Rum
- F-16: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, White Rum
How to make a B-52
As mentioned above, the shot is layered and therefore not shaken or stirred. You build in the glass by layering the different ingredients. Lately, there are even machines able to create such layered shots and do the work for you. Yet, even though it's not exactly a qualification you need to work behind a bar, every seasoned bartender can quickly make them with the help of a bar spoon.
Sometimes the B-52 is served in a sherry glass. But the most common serve is in a shot glass. That also makes it easier to light up the top layer of the shot.
First and foremost, you should measure all three components evenly. You need 0.5 oz of each liqueur. Start with coffee liqueur (Kahlúa) and pour it into the glass. Next, Bailey's Irish Cream pour gently over the back of a bar spoon. Finally, the same with Grand Marnier. Make sure to do this slowly and gently to avoid intermixing the layers.
Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Traditionally, Grand Marnier is used to create the top layer of a B-52 shot. Later on, bartenders often replaced it with Cointreau or Triple Sec because both are readily available and used for many other cocktails. All three of them are orange-flavored liqueurs but vary slightly in quality.
Of these three orange liqueurs, Grand Marnier is probably the one with the highest quality. It has a Cognac base, which makes for a rich and complex flavor profile that also carries notes of vanilla and oak.
Cointreau is another top-shelf orange liqueur. The clear and transparent liquid has a fresh and citrusy aroma and taste. And it's a key ingredient to many classic cocktails like the Margarita.
Triple Sec is actually a category of liqueurs - Cointreau is also part of the Triple Sec family. However, there are also products sold under the label Triple Sec, and you will find them in many stores. They're usually low-end liqueurs and way more affordable than Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
- 0.5 oz Kahlúa coffee liqueur
- 0.5 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
- 0.5 oz Grand Marnier
- Pour coffee liqueur into a shot glass.
- Use a bar spoon and gently pour Irish Cream over the back of the bar spoon to avoid mixing up the layers.
- Finally, do the same with Grand Marnier.
B-52 shot FAQs
Making a B-52 shot at home is approximately $0,80 per serve.
A B-52 shot contains 26% ABV (52 proof). For comparison, a shot of hard liquor has almost twice the amount.
The popular B-52 shot consists of three liqueurs: Kahlúa coffee liqueur, Bailey's Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier.
The famous B-52 shot was invented by Peter Fich in 1977 while working at Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, Canada. Fich had a preference to name his drink creations after bands. Therefore, the three-layer shot is named after the American new wave band B-52.