July 20, 2022 by Sonja Edridge
It may seem gimmicky and remind you of chemistry class, but smoking cocktails has become ultra-trendy lately, with TikTok alight with captivating displays of smoke billowing over Old Fashioned or Bourbon cocktails.
The craze started back in the early 2000s, when a creative New York City bartender made a bourbon and Coca-Cola mix that he smoked, and this oh-so dramatic trend has since seen classics revamped and modern masterpieces created. The inception of the smoking phenomenon is easy to understand if you imagine bourbon and whiskey aging in oak barrels, so the addition of the smoky notes into these drinks doesn’t feel like a stretch.
What is a smoked cocktail?
Smoking a drink is essentially bathing or infusing it with smoke. Just like there’s smoked salt or smoked fish, a drink, glass or cocktail ingredient can be smoked to impart a depth of flavor and smoky complexity into a cocktail, while at the same time being utterly intriguing.
Why you should try smoking cocktails
So why do people smoke cocktails? Apart from all the drama it adds, smoking a drink adds depth of flavor and really brings another dimension to the taste of your cocktail. Smoking cocktails adds extra aromatic appeal too so you can enhance the profiles of the flavor already in the mix. Some of the best cocktails to smoke are those with earthy herb notes, like Campari or bitters. Take a Negroni or an Old Fashioned, for example. Smoking cocktails will elevate the delicious subtle notes.
Can you smoke cocktails at home?
“Don’t try this at home” is not a warning that comes with smoking cocktails; it’s safe and relatively easy to smoke cocktails at home. Pro bartenders typically smoke the snifter or whiskey glass with a fandangled wooden gadget called a smoke top, or a cap filled with woodchips. Assuming you don’t have any fancy cocktail making kit at home, let’s talk you through the technique that aficionados call smoke-rinsing.
Before you get going, here are a few things to think about:
Choosing your smoke: Think about what flavors would enhance your cocktail, then choose a combustible material to match like wood chips, whole spices (i.e., a cinnamon stick), leaf tea, tobacco or woody fragrant herbs like lavender or rosemary. Experiment and have fun.
Determine what you want:
For a light smoky aroma to enhance your drink, smoke your cocktail once poured. If you own a cake dome or large metal bowl, place your cocktail in the glass on a heatproof surface next to your (lit) smoking chips, cover both with the dome or bowl and allow it to smoke briefly.
If you prefer a stronger smoky taste that blends or permeates your drink, then smoke your glass before pouring in your cocktail. The smoke will stick to the surface of the glass and ice. Learn how:
Smoke-rinsing your glass or wide-mouthed jar:
- Start with a chilled glass or mason jar —smoke sticks better to cold glasses
- Take a piece of rosemary or woodchips and place it on a heatproof marble or tile surface that you don’t mind charring up a bit
- Light the rosemary or chips with a blowtorch or a long match
- Put out any flames and place your glass or jar, turned upside down, over the smoking rosemary and allow it to fill up with smoke
- Once the smoke dissipates, turn your glass upright and pour in your cocktail
The trick is to treat the smoke as an ingredient, so it blends into your cocktail rather than
overpowering it. For example, in a pineapple margarita, for a delicate smoke, you can smoke the pineapple juice in a glass or mason jar before blending it with the other ingredients.
What are the essential tools for smoking cocktails?
If you are more invested in this technique, look out simple cold smoking kits like smoke tops, consisting of a small disc of wood (with a hole in the center) that seals your glass, with an indent to light a sprinkle of chips and a small hole that infuses smoke into your cocktail in less than a minute.
For a next level experience there is a more sophisticated gadget called a smoking gun, where you load chips into the device and the smoke is infused via a tube with a spout.
To give it a try, you’ll need:
- An assortment of flavored woodchips or woody herbs: try cherry, applewood or mesquite or herbs like rosemary, sage or lavender
- A vessel in which to smoke your cocktail: a large mason jar with a lid or a pitcher with a flat top that you can place a saucer on to seal in the smoke
- Matches, a lighter with a long spout or a blowtorch.
TOP TIP: Avoid butane taste – don’t light your blowtorch right on your smoke top or glass