I’ve got two obsessive hobbies: cocktails and large South American tropical fish. The .0005% of the world’s people who appreciate the cocktails don’t understand the fish, and the .0005% of the world’s people who appreciate the fish don’t understand the cocktails. I might be the only link between these two strange groups of hobbyists. Generally, my two hobbies have nothing to do with one another – the fish don’t like to drink I guess – but, I finally found a way to use my fish and cocktail knowledge together. The result was a delicious bottle of house-smoked Sazerac rye whisky.

This idea was hatched a few months ago when I was exploring the concept of smoked cocktails. While I have refined the idea of incorporating smoke into cocktails quite well since those writings, I still wanted to try my original idea of smoking a bottle of liquor itself. The problem with most other methods for incorporating smoke into a cocktail is that the smoke must piggy-back on some other medium, like a syrup, fruit, herb, etc. This introduces an additional flavor to a drink, that while tasty at times, limits the element of smoke to cocktails that use these types of ingredients. Unleashing the full potential of smoke in cocktails requires the introduction of smoke into a spirit without altering the spirit in any other way.

Enter the fish tank aerator. This device is usually used to force air into a fish tank in order to provide fish with air. The aerator simply collects the surrounding air and forces it into an airline which is connected to an airstone or airbar placed inside of a fish tank. This aerator is generally surrounded by clean, oxygen friendly air, which makes happy, healthy fish. A deadly error made by fish keepers, however, is spraying Lysol or other aerosols around fish tanks or aerators. The Lysol is taken in by the aerator forced into the tank, and the owner’s precious fish die, because Lysol kills germs…and fish. They should put this whole sequence on a commercial and point out that if the fish don’t have a chance, neither do the germs.

Now take these same principles and place that aerator on a smoke stack. And, instead of running the airline into a fish tank, place the end of the line in a bottle of Sazerac rye. The aerator takes in the smoke and forces it into the rye. The smoke, which is alcohol and water soluble, takes hold of the spirit and slowly changes it over time into a tasty beverage even Samuel L. Jackson would be proud of. The only thing to watch for here is the potential for the aerator to overheat. Make sure that your stack is not too hot and use a smoker that has a large distance between the fire and chimney opening. Taste your rye or whatever you desire every 30 minutes or so and pull the line out when you’ve reached your desired smokiness.

Some have suggested using housemade liquid smoke instead of smoking a spirit as a method for accomplishing the same result. However, liquid smoke is far more intense and difficult to control. Air infusing a spirit takes time and allows for one to stop the introduction of smoke at any point, creating more control over the final result, and eventual cocktails. Moreover, smoking a spirit yourself allows for you to use any type of wood to obtain a more specific smoke profile. Our rye was smoked with the smoker at the bar for example, and we used the same wood we smoke all of our meats with, maple and red oak. Any wood would work so, the potential for using all sorts of different wood, like mesquite or some other crazy foreign wood I haven’t heard of, could create some extremely complex spirits with as much subtlety or boldness as one would desire.

I love smoke elements in cocktails, and I think that smoke properties are an overlooked trait in mixology. Between the air infusion presented here and my other posts on smoked cocktails, I think the methodology for adding smoke to cocktails has been presented somewhat extensively. I would love to hear what others are doing with smoke and find out if anyone has heard of any new smokey cocktails since my last posts on the subject. Also, please try this out and tell me how your air infusion works. I’m pretty sure this idea is a first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there where other fish/cocktails fans out there.


  1. sam says:

    Nice. How does it taste?

  2. NW says:

    Great idea!! I am totally knocking this off!

  3. Tiare says:

    I guess i`m one of those in between cocktails and fish..
    I was waiting for this post..since the last one about smoked cocktails..i find it very interesting.. well, i have a large wardian case where i grow Orchids and also keep Scalare fishes at the bottom in a aquarium and maybe i should try to combine my hobbies as well? just don`t have any a smoke stack..

  4. wynk says:

    I’m not sure about mesquite. I prefer it for brisket, but I think that the reasons I love it for brisket (its sort of tangy, almost acidic note) are the same reasons I think it would clash with rye or bourbon flavors.

    Hickory might work, though, or pecan.

    I dunno. I guess you won’t know until you try, right?

  5. neverfull says:

    yes, cocktails and fish just like you said. nice seeing you again tonight. we’ve actually met before 😉

    thanks for the tasty libations! i’ll spread the word on green wednesdays. hope your fish gets well.

  6. Awe inspiring to say the least. I will be buying a smoker this fall and giving this a try. Thanks for the great info.

    Bruce Tomlinson

  7. Adrienne says:

    Nice! When I saw this on liqurious (, I thought, “This better be Bobby!”

  8. strayhiker says:

    You also might try apple, hickory (as mentioned). A lot of BBQs use these, as well as the others. I would love to hear your side by side tastings of pecan vs. hickory vs. apple smoked rye!

  9. Robert Heugel says:

    I would like to try different types of wood, but that experiment is probably a couple of months away for me. I will get back to you though after we get the bar open. I know for sure some smoked cocktails are going to find their way on to our menu at some point of another.

  10. Thomas says:

    Is it safe to assume that in the overlap of your hobbies you drink like a fish?

    More seriously, do you lose much of the rye to evaporation? Perhaps the smoke had cooled enough by the time it got through the tubing to the bottle.

  11. Robert Heugel says:

    Haha, to answer your question; no I don’t lose very much to evaporation at all because the smoke is so far from the fire source and the tube is quite long too. I suppose though to keep this from happening even more, you could use a long air tube rolled up in a bath of ice.

  12. Freebird says:

    I had the pleasure a few years back to recieve a bottle of Irish whisky (ey?)
    that was made using smokey peat to toast the grains. Awesome treat to say the least. If I remember the name of the place it came from I will pass it along. I recall it started with conn…. , cheers

  13. Freebird says:

    connemara? perhaps

  14. Christopher says:

    I suppose it’s an alternative way to make a cheaper scotch? I’d also be concerned with denaturing the flavors imparted to the original rye from the barrel, which are no doubt affected by the aromatics of the smoke (charred wood = charred wood) as well as air that I’m sure sneaks into that lil’ tube, there.

    As far as this being a first, it very well could be…though I’ve had a botched bacon-bourbon old fashioned that tasted more like the charred greasy bits of a pan than actual bacon. Regardless, I don’t think I can (or should) credit the establishment for inventing such a thing.

    Getting past all the nay-saying technical hooey – the most important question is obvious: how did it hold up in a (and in what) cocktail?

Leave a Reply