Somehow I missed the great smoked-cocktail trend.
It seems to have peaked around 2019, just prior to the pandemic, but also before it could make much of an appearance in the drinking establishments of our sparsely populated corner of Southern Oregon.
The fad was largely extinguished by COVID lockdowns and capacity limits, which hampered the ability of mixologists to show off their pyrotechnic skills (and charge their audiences accordingly). All that’s left are photos of bartenders serving up wisp-enveloped concoctions to enchanted customers and many, many, many online guides to making smoked cocktails at home. It has even spawned a mini-industry of smoked cocktail kits, equipment, and ingredients.
Too bad I’m so late to the party, because I love the aroma and flavor of culinary smoke. I’ve smoked a whole turkey over charcoal on our Weber grill for Thanksgiving almost every year since the 1980s. I recently bought a charcoal cabinet smoker and have used it to smoke pork shoulders, whole chickens, salmon, pork ribs, bratwurst, hard-boiled eggs, almonds, and garlic. Last year I even tackled the multi-week process of making my own pastrami.
So the idea of smoked cocktails certainly appeals. But putting the smoke into the cocktail is a challenge.
The easiest approach is to simply fill your glass—with or without the cocktail already in it—with smoke. This can be accomplished with a smoking gun, with a smoking dome or bowl to capture the smoke, or by simply inverting the cocktail glass over smoldering wood. In theory, the alcohol will act as a solvent, dissolving the smoke molecules on the glass’s surface and picking up the char flavor. In practice, very little of the smoke taste actually makes it into the drink; the best way imbibe is to inhale from the smoke-filled glass slightly before sipping.
Another way to introduce smoky elements to your drink is by smoking its components: the liquor, the bitters, the garnish, even the ice. This is more likely to produce a genuine smoky taste, but it involves more work—in some cases, a lot more.
Smoke will add complexity to just about any liquor, but a few—whiskey, brandy, tequila—make better partners. Peated Scotch whiskeys and mezcals bring their own smokiness to the glass. And the authors of Cocktail Codex suggest that fatty ingredients such as egg and dairy more readily capture smoky flavors, but their ambitious Campfire Flip recipe gooses up the drink by using smoke-infused cognac.
For my own smoked cocktail, the Liquidity, I cheated, too. I used a tiny amount (as in, just a drop) of liquid smoke, added to a conventional Old-Fashioned. It lacks the theatricality of a smoldry glass of booze, but it results in a genuine smoke flavor that’s hard to achieve by rubbing two sticks together.
Adapted from Alexis Karavay
2 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
1 teaspoon Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
1 teaspoon simple syrup
Using a smoking gun, fill a brandy snifter, covered with a saucer, with smoke. Alternatively, invert the glass over a small amount of ignited smoking chips in a flame-proof cup.
In a mixing glass, add all ingredients over ice and stir for about 20 seconds. Uncover the brandy snifter (or turn it upright) and quickly strain the mixture into the glass.
Adapted from Cocktail Codex by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan
1 ounce hickory smoke-infused cognac (see below)
1 ounce Lustau Los Arcos amontillado sherry
1 teaspoon Giffard Vanilla de Madagascar
1/4 ounce Demerara gum syrup
1 whole egg
Freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg for garnish
Shake all ingredients without ice, then shake again with ice. Double strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a few grates of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Hickory Smoke-Infused Cognac
1 bottle cognac
1 pinch finely ground hickory chips
Pour the cognac into a wide container with a lid. Using a smoking gun loaded with the hickory chips, add smoke to the container. Cover immediately. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.
A Sunday Specials original
2 ounces bourbon
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Dash of liquid smoke
Orange peel and brandied cherries for garnish
In an Old-Fashioned glass, muddle the bourbon, sugar cube, and bitters until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Add a dash (no more than 1/16th of a teaspoon) of liquid smoke. Stir and add ice (preferably one large cube or sphere). Garnish with orange peel and brandied cherries.