Update: I wrote this several years ago before Anvil existed, and I have since smoked so many different things I’ve left the concept behind. I still get e-mails about this and would be happy to comment, but since Anvil doesn’t have a huge smoker, like my previous stomping grounds did, it’s not as important in our cocktail program. Still cool though…
I generally try and write about cocktails in a somewhat informative manner. In other words, I tinker with bottles and ingredients behind the bar and post the results of my efforts here for people to read if they desire. Sometimes, however, I am boggled by my own ambitions. This week’s project at the bar has been trying to incorporate smoke into a cocktail. Unfortunately, the undertaking has been hazy at best.
The concept of using smoke in a cocktail had been introduced to me by a friend who was considering using liquid smoke in a cocktail in small amounts, like bitters. I thought the idea had potential, but I never really got around to tracking down some liquid smoke and dropping it into my Manhattan. As any good bartender searching for new ideas would do, I shelved the idea, promising to come back to it someday.
Then one day I had a new job at a new restaurant and had to come up with a new cocktail menu. A great house drink is all about utilizing the unique opportunities of the house of course, and well, our house loves to smoke stuff. This one could be a challenge; integrating a smoked flavor into a cocktail is difficult. We could opt for the liquid smoke as mentioned before, but I wanted to use the supplies at the restaurant to make a specialty you couldn’t find anywhere else. But, how do you smoke a drink? I didn’t really know where to begin so I asked our chef to smoke some fruit for me. The next day I had the gnarliest strawberry I have ever tasted in my life before me. Seriously, the strawberry had lung cancer.
I tried the strawberries in several drinks only to to get those “I’m only drinking this and telling you it’s good so you don’t feel bad” reactions. Man, I hadn’t got those in a while; it hurt my ego a little bit. This strawberry had me stumped. Finally, I tried muddling the strawberry with a small amount of simple syrup and pouring a Blood and Sand on top.
Blood and Sand
.75 oz Scotch
.75 oz Orange Juice
.5 oz Cherry Herring
.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass.
Sure, this drink usually calls for a blended scotch, avoiding the overly peaty flavors of the Islays, but what the heck I thought. I was running out of ideas. The smoked strawberry Blood and Sand was the best attempt I had tried yet. It definitely had the flavor I was looking for. The only question I hadn’t answered was: Is this a good cocktail? I couldn’t decide. As one person described it, it was like drinking a cigarette. Not everyone agreed with this view, but man it was definitely like drinking smoke. It was a cool experience, yet it wasn’t something I could see enjoying after the novelty diminished.
For starters, the drink was obviously not balanced. The strawberries were oversaturated with smoke causing them to dominate anything they touched, including my hands. You should smell my keyboard (yes, I wash my hands). But, mostly, I just couldn’t decide how to use the smoked flavor correctly. What balances smoke? Should the smoked ingredient be treated like the charred flavors in some mescals or the Islays?
This would suggest that generally a lighter spirit should be used to allow the smoked strawberry’s flavor to speak in place of the mescals or Islays in conjunction with citrus of some sort. But, pending a more lightly smoked strawberry or another type of fruit, I still wonder if this will work conceptually. Maybe, I should just accept the cocktail for what it is, an expression of a smoked flavor, Like many extreme cocktails, found in some circles of molecular mixology, using flavors traditionally reserved for food can be an intriguing experience in which we confront a familiar flavor in a way we have never experienced before. The Smoked Blood and Sand certainly fits this description.
I have done some searching on smoked cocktails and a few results have appeared. Eben Freeman smokes coke syrup to make a smoked rum and coke. Kristin Woodward is using smoked pears, and a few have used liquid smoke. The most similar idea to my own seems to be a bar in India at the Smokehouse Grill that is doing a mojito with muddled smoked melon and a, dare I say it, a Smoked Apple Martini. You think you’ve gotten as far from the apple martini as possible with your smoked cocktail idea, and bam, it appears like another final Kiss tour. Either way, at least a few people are thinking like me. So obviously, the smoked cocktail has some degree of potential. Just where the road leads remains to be seen. I am going to see if different fruits work, and the thought of smoked citrus sounds cool because of the possibilities for a smoked zest. Other than that, I am still somewhat stumped. Any suggestions???