Smoke isn’t just for grilling. All over the country, bartenders are employing smoke to add depth, complexity, and extra flavor to cocktails. But you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy this smoky trend. Below are the simple steps on how to create smoke cocktails in the comfort of your own home.
Cocktail Smoking Ingredients
To make food-safe smoke, you need two things: wood and heat. Technically, you can smoke almost anything that burns, but certain ingredients will provide the best flavors and aromas. Look for hardwoods like oak, maple, hickory, apple, cherry, alder, etc. You should be able to find a small bag of wood chips at your local hardware store. It will produce enough smoke for hundreds of cocktails.
- Prep your wood. You only need a very small piece, about the size of a wine cork.
- Light your wood. A lighter or match will do, but if you have a blowtorch, the higher temp and direct heat will allow you to start the wood smoking without actually creating flames. Stop when the wood starts to blacken and you see little wisps of smoke.
- Capture the smoke with a sealable glass or jar. Once it has begun to smoke, place an empty glass jar over the smoldering wood to capture all that flavorful goodness. When the jar is totally white with smoke, add the lid to capture the smoke inside.
- Add your cocktail or spirit. Pour your premixed cocktail or spirit into the jar, and reseal with the lid. Don’t worry if some smoke escapes here, as there are ample amounts of smoke to flavor your drink.
- Swirl it around. Lastly, just swirl it around to mix the liquid with the smoke. This can be just a few seconds, or as much as a minute or longer (the smoke will likely have dissipated by then). I say start with 15-20 seconds for your first time, then adjust based on your taste.
- Pour and enjoy. Once you’re done swirling, pour the whole thing into a glass with ice, garnish, and enjoy.
Don’t limit your options. Smoke whatever you think can help you make your best cocktail. Experiment burning aromatics like loose-leaf tea, rosemary, or dried spices to add a little variety. If you’re using a torch, just lay the aromatics down into a small pile on your plank, char it, and capture the resulting smoke.
Matching Spirits with Smoke
Once you’ve got all that down, you just need to pick the drink you want to smoke. Anything will work, really, but I recommend using spirits that already have an element of smoke — scotch, mescal, and bourbon or rye whiskey. Just be wary that the nuances of a drink that uses a great deal of ingredients can quickly get lost once smoke enters the equation, so it’s better to stick with simpler recipes with assertive flavors that can punch back.
Thinking outside of the box is how great cocktails are discovered.