Cocktails for Smoke Lovers
By now, you know Raichlen’s rule: If a food tastes great baked, fried, or sautéed, it tastes even better grilled.
Here’s the corollary: If a cocktail hits the spot shaken or stirred, it surely sips better smoked.
Which brings us one of the hottest trends in American mixology these days: smoked cocktails. Smoke has been called the “umami of barbecue,” and it adds a character and complexity that can turn a cocktail you’ve drunk a thousand times into a drink of great depth and distinction.
There are two ways to add smoke to cocktails. The first is to use an intrinsically smoky spirit, like single malt scotch or Mexican mescal, or a smoky flavoring, like chipotle peppers or bitters or pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika). The second is to infuse the drink with actual wood smoke.
In this blog, we’ll cover cocktails flavored with smoky ingredients. In my blog post next week, I’ll tell you how to blast the smoke directly into your drink with something called The Smoking Gun.
The ultimate smoky spirit is Scotch whisky, which owes it distinctive iodine-smoke flavor to peat. The distiller uses this coal-like fuel to roast the barleycorns before mashing and fermenting. All scotch has a smoky flavor component, but according to master mixologist Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail and the man who sparked a mixed drink renaissance in the U.S., the smokiest scotches come from the island of Islay—in particular from the two great distilleries: Laphroaig and Lagavulin. Degroff makes a smoky Manhattan by floating a spoonful of scotch atop the conventional rye or bourbon cocktail.
Mescal (sometimes written mezcal) is the other great intrinsically smoky spirit—made in Mexico’s Oaxaca region by smoking the hearts of agave and other cacti. If your vision of mescal involves the puerile thrill of eating the worm found in mid-market mescals—a pastime popular when I was in college—please reconsider. A new generation of single village mescals, typified by Del Maguey, possess the finesse of a great cognac. They should definitely be on your bar shelf.
Other smoky cocktail flavorings include:
- Chipotle chiles (smoked jalapenos). The perfect fuel for spicing up a margarita or bloody Mary.
- Chipotle bitters or barbecue bitters. Try using one instead of the commonplace Angostura. One good brand is Bitter End.
- Pimenton. Spanish smoked paprika. The next time you make a bloody Mary, try rubbing the rim of the glass with cut lime, then dipping it in a shallow bowl of pimenton.
- Beef jerky or crisply fried bacon. Use a strip as a swizzle stick.
- Liquid smoke. There’s no substitute for real wood smoke from a smoker or smoke gun, of course, but liquid smoke—a natural distilled product made from real wood—comes in handy as a last resort. Use sparingly—a drop or two goes a long way. Try it in a smoky martini.
In the next blog, we’ll discuss mechanical means of smoking cocktails, namely, smoking the spirit, mixer, or glass with a smoking gun. No special gear required for the amazingly flavorful cocktails below:
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