Smoked Cocktails for the Holidays: Barbecue You Can Drink
Excerpted from Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke (Workman Publishing, 2016).
Somewhere between the Penicillin—a libation featuring ginger, honey, lemon, and Scotch, concocted by bartender Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in New York City in 2005—and the bourbon-based Dragon’s Breath I drank from a mesquite smoke-filled brandy snifter at a cocktail lounge in Scottsdale, the American cocktail got smoked. Literally—using an ingenious handheld smoker, or indirectly, by adding a smoke-scented spirit like Mexico’s mezcal (distilled from smoke-roasted agave hearts) or single-malt Scotch whisky (made with peat-smoked barley). Wood or other smoked ingredients can turn a cocktail you’ve sipped a hundred times into a beverage that will fill you with wonder. And just in time for the holidays, when a bit of magic is always expected.
Smoked cocktails are turning up at cutting-edge bars from Brooklyn to Berkeley. (Jean Georges Steakhouse in Las Vegas even offers a tableside Smoked Whiskey Cart where guests can select the smoked wood, such as hickory or apple, to pair with Scotch, Japanese whiskey, or bourbon.) Smoke adds a complexity and depth that can make a decent cocktail great and a great cocktail a masterpiece. And you can make them at home. There are several ways to infuse a cocktail with smoky flavors.
How to Infuse a Cocktail with Smoke:
1. Handheld Smoker
The Smoking Gun by Polyscience looks like a pistol. Place fine hardwood sawdust in the smoke chamber, then switch on the battery-powered fa and light the sawdust with a match or lighter. The smoke flows through a rubber tube into your glass, cocktail shaker, or pitcher where it flavors the drink. Cover the cocktail with plastic wrap and fill with smoke. Repeat as necessary. (Just recently, the company introduced the Smoking Gun Pro Cloche. It looks like an elegant glass dessert cover, but has an unobtrusive valve on the side to accommodate the smoking hose. You place the cocktail you want smoked under the cloche for a dramatic presentation.)
2. Conventional Smoker
Pour fruit puree (fresh pineapple works great) into an aluminum foil pan to a depth of 1/4 inch. Place in a larger pan filled with ice. Cold-smoke for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or hot-smoke for 30 to 40 minutes. You can also smoke vermouth or wine this way. Refrigerate until using, but try to use within a few hours of smoking. (Note: You can freeze smoked fruit puree in ice cube trays for future use.)
Other Ways to Infuse Smoke Into a Cocktail
1. Use a smoked spirit.
Scotch whisky has a distinctive smoke flavor, the result of being distilled from smoked barley. Rauchbier (German-style smoked beer) is also brewed from smoked barley. Mezcal is made from fire-roasted agave hearts. All three make killer smoked cocktails.
2. Rinse the inside of a glass (or pitcher) with smoke.
Fill a chilled inverted bar glass with smoke. Place a coaster over the mouth of the glass (now upside down) to cover it tightly. Now turn the glass upright again and let stand covered for 1 minute. Pour in the cocktail and serve while the glass is still smoking.
3. Infuse smoke directly into the cocktail.
Mix your drink in a bar glass or shaker. Cover the top with plastic wrap, leaving one edge open. Load your handheld smoker with hardwood sawdust following the manufacturer’s instructions. Insert the smoking hose into the glass above the drink. Fire up the smoker to fill the glass with smoke. Withdraw the tube and cover the open edge with the plastic wrap. Repeat as needed.
4. Smoke a large batch of cocktails at once.
Mix your ingredients in a large glass pitcher or bowl and cover with plastic wrap, leaving one edge open. Insert the handheld smoker hose above the mixture and fill the pitcher with smoke. Remove the hose and tightly cover the top of the pitcher. Let stand for 4 minutes, then stir and repeat as needed.
5. Smoke the garnish.
Use a smoky garnish like a crisp strip of bacon, a fire-roasted wedge of orange, or home-smoked beef jerky.
6. Smoke the water for the ice cubes.
Place water in an aluminum foil pan. Cold-smoke for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or hot-smoke for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat. Freeze the water in ice cube trays.
Here are some of my favorite smoked cocktails to get you started. For more recipes and techniques, see my book Project Fire.
Steven Raichlen’s Best Smoked Cocktails:
- Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries
- Memphis Barbecue Cocktail Bitters
- Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters
- OXO Press & Pour Cocktail Shaker
About the Book
Project Smoke is the How to Grill of smoking, both a complete step-by-step guide to mastering the gear and techniques and a collection of 100 explosively flavorful recipes for smoking every kind of food, from starters to desserts.