SMOKED COCKTAILS?

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???

8 Responses to “SMOKED COCKTAILS?”

  1. Scortch says:

    The tough thing will always be mellowing out the acrid, bitter end of the smoke experience. So much of the appeal, for me, has been the aromatic notes of smoke -perhaps thats an area that could be focused on with a bit more ease, rather than a flat out taste infusion.

    And don’t forget to explore the possibilities of smoked salts.

  2. sam says:

    Maybe try smoking the strawberries on your own, for a shorter period of time? Or perhaps the wood used in the smoking process was too intense? You could try smoking lemons, zesting them, and letting the zest sit in vodka for a few days so you can use a liquid instead of touching the smoked object at the bar. This is interesting, I’d like to know where you go with it.

  3. Blair, aka 'Trader Tiki' says:

    My local favorite TearDrop Lounge has been experimenting with smoked fruits, the best of which so far has been smoked lemon juice in a house special Toddy, with a smoked pear as garnish. Really changes the flavor profile, making everything really rich and, well, smoky.

  4. Markus says:

    *cough*cough*…*hack*hack*wheeze*

    I was lucky(?) enough to try one of these ‘smoked strawberry cocktails’ and I’ll say it was very interesting.

    I really didn’t want the drink initially…but I found myself being brought back again and again for the unique taste. next thing you know, 3/4’s of it was gone.

    Keep up the Mr. Wizard act behind the bar Robert, we definitely enjoy it. :)

  5. Boozemonkey says:

    Wow, great post! My first thought is that the main issue is finding the right fruit for the job. I can see how a strawberry (especially out of season) might get very overwhelmed by the smoking process, but perhaps a “sturdier” fruit might hold up better. Perhaps cumquats or persimmons? Have you considered grilling the fruit with a handful of wood chips over the coals to impart a lighter smoke flavor to the fruit?

    I also found your idea of smoked zest to be a pretty cool one. Do you think peeling the fruit then smoking the zest? Not sure how that would hold up to smoking, and might take on too much of the smoke but could be worth a shot.

  6. Robert Heugel says:

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone. Your comments have been helpful in refining this concept. I tried some more smoked cocktail experiment today and noticed that the smoke is most apparent in the finish regardless of the method of introducing smoke to the cocktail. Consequently, it can be difficult to balance because the finish is so dominating and the drink never gets a chance to respond. I guess the trick is to make the smoked finish light enough to be pleasing but not overwhelming.

    Scortch – I definitely agree with your thoughts on the balance, and I think the aromatic notion is a good one. I think that the one thing I do really well with cocktails is to make them intensely aromatic in order to create levels and dimensions for the cocktail. So, I am definitely going to try to focus the smoke in an aromatic manner. The strawberries have an intense smell and would probably even make an impact if placed on a rim. Not that I would do this, but it does show how the smoke aroma should be easy to introduce. Smoked salts are also a great idea, and we have them in the kitchen. By the way, great name for the post.

    Sam – I definitely think that the wood we use is less than ideal, but it is really the only option at the bar. I think I will try something on my own at the house soon, but for now, I spend so much time at the bar, it is really the only place I can experiment. I think that simply smoking for a shorter period of time however should help with the issue however as the strawberries certainly were over smoked. I really am curious about the smoked zest concept as well. Didn’t get a chance to try it today, but am going to soon and will get back with the results.

    Blair – Good to know there are some other crazy…err…creative enthusiasts interested in smoke. I checked out TeaDrop Lounge’s page and they definitely have some cool stuff working. Do you know if they smoke the lemons and then juice them, or do they juice the lemons and smoke the juice? I am assuming it is the later as you said, but I just wanted to clarify. Have they ever tried to zest a smoked lemon? These might be pretty detailed questions, but it would be cool to know.

    Mark – Thanks for being a lab rat for the smoked cocktail; maybe I should have written this post and got some more feedback before passing a smoked cocktail your way. It was definitely an experience and one and the weirder things I have ever consumed. Next time your in I will hopefully have a refined smoked cocktail to redeem myself. Good seeing you guys yesterday!

    Boozemonkey – First, sorry I didn’t have you guys listed on the blogroll. I’ve been reading you for a few weeks now and just forgot to throw you up there. Fixed that. Anyway, the fruit is probably a problem for sure. The cumquat might be an awesome choice. Persimmons too, but I had a persimmon tree in my yard as a child and used to fall into the persimmons we never used that fell onto the ground. Those damn persimmon stain clothes, and Mom was never to pleased. To this day, I hate the persimmon more than any other fruit on the planet. Vodka and persimmons – not going to find them in my drinks. Haha, just kidding. I am going to try a lighter smoke and work with different fruits, but I think the cumquat idea is awesome. As for the zests, I am going to try several approaches: smoking the zest independently, smoking a whole lemon, and smoking a lemon cut in half. I think the last might work the best because it will keep the zest from drying out completely, while still opening the lemon more for absorption. I get back to you on the different processes.

    Well, that was like writing a whole new post. Thanks for all the great ideas everyone! I really appreciate your feedback and plan to document my experimentation with the smoked cocktail concept over the next few days. I’ll let you know if I burn down the bar.

  7. J-dog says:

    I have only now come across this post and am sorry that I was not able to share this with you before. Here’s what you need to do…..smoke the ice. All the other ingredients stay fresh and light and you can completely control the amount of smokiness by the amount of smoked ice you use. Simply smoke a block of ice in a perforated pan, refreeze and chip off with an ice pick as needed….it is a wonderful way to incorporate smoke into many drinks.

  8. Great post
    What is so wrong about using the phrase "Love the Christian, hate the ignorant dogma"?

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