Where there’s smoke there’s...really good cocktails? It’s true! Smoke isn’t just for grilling. In recent years bartenders have experimented with smoking traditional cocktail recipes and the effect is about more than just what you see. “The aroma excites the palate and adds depth to the flavor of the cocktail,” Norton Christopher, bar chef at Sac-a-Lait in New Orleans, told Whiskey Advocate. In other words, smoking results in uniquely layered drinks with alluring notes and aromas. Add it all up and you’ve got a multi-sensory experience you can do right in the comforts of your home. Here’s the 411 on how to smoke cocktails, including the right tools, tips and tricks.
There’s more than one way to smoke a cocktail, and contrary to what you might think you don’t need an expensive smoking gun to achieve your desired outcome. How much you want to invest and the amount of smoke you add will determine your equipment choice. You can, however, get the same flavor as a smoking gun by using a handheld torch and a wood plank (or other aromatic items like tea or herbs).
There are three different ways you can smoke your cocktail, including smoke-rinsing your glass, smoke-rinsing the entire cocktail and double-boiling a large quantity. Your intended flavor will inform which way to proceed.
- Smoke-rinsing the glass results in the lightest smoke flavor. First, chill your glass as smoke tends to stick to things that are chilled. Prepare your cocktail and before you pour it into your glass, take whatever you’re smoking and light it on fire. A blowtorch would work great in this scenario but avoid using lighter fluid as it can leave a chemical residue. Turn your glass upside down and let the smoke fill the inside and stick to the interior. Once the smoke dissipates, pour your cocktail into the glass.
- Smoke-rinsing the whole cocktail results in a heavier smoke flavor. You’ll repeat the same steps as smoke-rinsing the glass only with a large vessel like a wine decanter or pitcher. After you chill the vessel, let the smoke fill the interior for a few minutes. Once it has the desired amount of smoke, pour your prepared cocktail back into the vessel. Don’t let it sit for too long as most of the smoke flavor will happen in the first 30 seconds or so. Pour the liquid into a glass and enjoy.
- Double-boiling a batch with a smoker or grill will give you the most intense flavor. Start by getting a fire going in a smoker or grill with the desired wood chips and flavor. Make a double-boiler by putting the liquid you want to smoke in a pot or heat-proof bowl and put that within another bowl that’s filled with ice. By adding a boiler of ice your liquid won’t heat up, which would change the flavor. Set the double-boiler off to the side where it’s not directly over the flame but can still catch the smoke.
Get this: you can even smoke ice cubes! (Yes, really!) They can add a surprisingly big amount of flavor to your drink quality. It’s a subtle smokiness that you can taste but isn’t overpowering.
Although you can add a smoked flavor to any kind of cocktail, spirit-forward drinks with minimal ingredients work best. If your drink calls for several ingredients, the nuances can get lost once you add in smoke. Stirred cocktails are also a good combination with smoking. These are the top whiskey and smoking combinations to try with cocktails.
- Rye: If you’re starting with a rye whiskey as your base, choose oak, cherry or hickory wood chips to smoke. The spicy notes of a rye whiskey work well with these types of wood.
- Bourbon: Got any corn husks lying around? Corn husks will bring out the natural corn flavor and provide a sweetness at the same time.
- Wheat bourbon: Another great flavor combination with a wheat bourbon is cinnamon. Since bourbon is sweet, the cinnamon will accent that flavor and provides a lighter smoke.
- Corn whiskey: Everyone loves a good sweet and savory pairing. The charred nuttiness of pecan wood is a great addition to corn whiskey. It gives a good balance between sweet and savory characteristics.
Other ingredients to try smoking with whiskey include: oak wood, rosemary, vanilla beans, citrus peels, salt and ice. The best recipe to start with smoking is a manhattan:
A manhattan is a timeless and classic whiskey cocktail everyone should try. It has a sweet but sturdy flavor that holds up to smoke.
- 2 oz. rye whiskey
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Directions: Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a smoke-filled Old Fashioned glass, agitate for 30 seconds and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Garnish with a cherry (optional).