Spirits Close-Up: Smoke

Charring a cedar grilling plank to trap the smoke in a lowball glass // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Charring a cedar grilling plank to trap the smoke in a lowball glass // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

From midday brats to late-night s’mores, the flavors of summer are full of smoke. I say you should add a little to your cocktails as well. There are several ways to get a smoky flavor into drinks, but which ones are worth your time and effort?

Don’t Bother With

Liquid Smoke: Do you want your drinks to taste like smoke, or like liquid smoke? Your palate knows the difference.

Handheld Electric Smokers: You’ve probably seen some fancy cocktail bar pull out those guns with the rubber hoses and woodchips. They’re great for the pros, but if you have $100+ to spend on home bar equipment, there are better things to buy, and easier ways to make smoky drinks.

Use Instead

Smoky spirits: The raw ingredients in mezcal and peated Scotch are smoked before they’re fermented. Sometimes it’s best to leave the smoking to the experts.

Smoked fruits: Peaches and other soft-flesh fruits are great to put in a smoker for a few minutes before you blend them up. Add your smoky puree to sparkling wine (bonfire Bellini!) or use it to build a bowl of smoky punch.

Flaming garnishes: Give your orange zest a little singe before dropping it in. Set some spruce on fire like they do at Ngon Bistro (see: the Campfire Rob Roy.)

Smoked ice: Put some ice cubes in a foil grilling boat, and stick them in your smoker while it’s warming up (try to keep the temperature as low as possible) for 15–20 minutes. Refreeze the smoky water in cube molds. Add a big cube to your favorite bourbon drink—it’ll get smokier as it melts.

Grilling planks: Take a kitchen blowtorch to a food-safe grilling plank (I use cedar) until it’s black and nearly on fire. Invert a lowball glass on the plank, trapping the smoke, and wait one minute. Pour in a drink that involves no ice (Sazerac, Manhattan, etc.) and serve immediately.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.