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Cocktails that can take the heat
Many a chef, baker, mixologist, and home cook can characterize their relationship with flames as a love affair. We know how cooking over an open flame enhances food, so why not turn up the heat on our cocktails to enhance their flavor, too?
Unlike most hot and heavy love affairs that burn with a blazing passion and fizzle out just as fast, these grilled, smoked, and torched flavors will linger once you’re finished with them as a sweet and smoky memory, to be lit again at your whimsy.
For the following cocktails I used a Cameron brand stovetop smoker. It’s simple to use. Small wood chips sit on the bottom of the smoker, then you place a tray over the top and add your fruit, cut side up. Cover with the lid and place over medium heat. If you don’t want that smoky smell to linger in the house, this smoker is small enough to fit on an outdoor gas grill (just make sure you close the grill lid to help contain the smoke.)
Once you’ve secured your weapon of choice, it’s time to select your ingredients. I opted for lemons, apples, cherries, and rosemary. Depending on what you’re smoking, it could take as little as 10 to 15 minutes.
I have to admit, it wasn’t love at first sight with the smoked lemons, as they gave off a cleanser-type smell. But don’t let that turn you off. The taste, when juiced, is just what I was looking for, reminiscent of lemon bitters.
When you juice the lemon, it will be extremely soft and will want to squish through the juicer, resulting in bits of pulp in your juice. To avoid this (go easy on him, he’s sensitive), pour the smoked juice through a fine-mesh strainer and store in a container in the fridge until ready to use (within three days).
Things really started to heat up with some apples-on-grill action, carmelizing the apples over the heat. When placed in a container, the slices oozed grilled apple flavor and gave new meaning to simple syrup.
After that, no ordinary candle-lit dinner would do for the rest of my apple slices. I topped them with raw sugar and torched them until they became burnt to perfection. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and boy did that ring true when I took them out of the fridge the next day and they beamed a glorious amber color.
Thinking that nothing could top my rendezvous with the apples, my heart surprised me and opened yet again to some cherries steeped in smoke. Hooked on that smoky experience, I torched some rosemary and then, in an all-or-nothing mood, the entire cocktail, just enough to enjoy the subtle smoky notes on the nose.
As with any love affair, you’ll want to collect something that you can remember your fall flames by. I took the leftover slices of grilled lemons and apples and separated them into two Mason jars. I filled the lemon jar with gin and the apple jar with vodka. I’ll see how they taste in a couple weeks.
Smokin’ Rosemary Lemon Drop
This is a lovely, well-balanced cocktail with just the right amount of smoke, bitter, sweet, and herb. It’s all about balance. Not too much of any one component.
Juice from 1 grilled lemon
Juice from 1 smoked lemon
1 torched, muddled rosemary sprig
¾ ounce simple syrup
2 ounces gin
Burnt rosemary sprig and slice of grilled lemon, for garnish
Grill the lemon
Cut 1 lemon in half; cut one thin slice from one of the halves and reserve for garnish. On a hot grill, place the lemon slice and lemon halves cut side down, and char until the lemon starts to brown and caramelize, about 4 minutes. If your grill isn’t hot enough, leave the lemon on a bit longer and remember that char equals flavor. Place in a container to cool.
Press the grilled lemon
When cool, squeeze lemon halves with a citrus reamer or press. The pulp will be somewhat soft so it helps to then push the pulp through a fine-mesh strainer to capture and remove any of the pulp itself. Keep in container until ready to assemble the cocktail.
Smoke the lemon
Add 1 lemon, halved, cut side up, to the smoker; place over foil to catch the accumulated juices. Once you see the first whiff of smoke, smoke for about 15 minutes. Place in a container to cool.
Press the smoked lemon
When cool, squeeze with a citrus reamer or press. The pressed juice of the smoked lemon will be more pulp than juice, so it helps to then push the pulp through a fine-mesh strainer to render the juice. Keep in container until ready to assemble the cocktail.
Torch the rosemary
Using a kitchen torch (same kind that you’d use for a crème brûlée), burn the ends of 2 fresh rosemary sprigs. Set one aside for garnish and add one to a cocktail shaker, and muddle.
Construct the cocktail
Combine ice, gin, the juice from both lemons, simple syrup, and shake vigorously. Pour through a strainer into a coupe glass. Garnish with the burnt rosemary sprig and the slice of grilled lemon.
Just before serving the cocktail, using the smoking gun, holding a bowl or domed glass over the cocktail, pipe some smoke over the top and capture the smoke by removing the smoke tube and lowering the dome over the cocktail. Hold in place for a minute before removing. Serve smoky.
Old Smoky Mashup
This cocktail is a play on an old fashioned, which is traditionally made with bourbon, however the tequila replacement I recommend here has been aged in bourbon barrels. I also added smoky mezcal, which in an earlier edition of Sips I mention is made by burning the agave, so it takes on a very smoky note. A little goes a long way.
1½ ounces Bourbon Barrel Anejo tequila
1 ounce mezcal
6 fresh cherries, divided
1 burned sugar cube (the demerara cubes)
2 tablespoons raw sugar for brûléed sugar rim
3 dashes cherry bitters
1 large ice sphere
Smoke the cherries
Pit all 6 cherries and place them in a container. If you have a smoking gun, pipe smoke into the container and seal with a lid for 5 minutes. If smoking on your cooktop smoker (indoors or out), add cherries to the smoker in an ovenproof bowl to capture any juices that might accumulate and once you see the first whiff of smoke, smoke for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
Torch the sugar to rim the glass
Place 2 tablespoons of raw sugar in a flameproof or ovenproof dish and torch until very dark brown and much, but not all, of the sugar has dissolved (we want to see some individual sugar crystals as well as the burnt sugar). Roll the rim of a rocks glass in the sugar while it is still warm and let it harden on the glass. If it hardens before you’re done, torch the sugar again and repeat with the remaining rim. Let cool.
Construct the cocktail
In a cocktail shaker, muddle 4 cherries and any juices. Using a torch, burn a brown sugar cube (I buy French La Perruche because they have the best flavor) and torch until the exterior is burnt. Then add to the shaker along with cherry bitters and muddle until the sugar cube is broken into very small pieces or partially dissolved. Add ice, tequila, and mezcal and shake vigorously until cold.
Pour into the sugar-rimmed glass with a large ice sphere or cube and garnish with the remaining 2 smoked cherries.
Grilled Apple Sour
This cocktail oozes autumn. And if you ever find yourself with apples that have gotten too soft? Toss them on a grill, they’re perfect for this simple recipe.
4 apple slices
2 ounces bourbon
½ ounce ginger liqueur
1 ounce of the juice from the grilled apples
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
1 cinnamon stick, for garnish
1 grilled apple wedge, for garnish
Start by grilling apple slices over a hot flame until they get soft and have nice char marks. Set in a container to cool and capture the juices.
In a cocktail shaker, muddle grilled apple slices. Add ice, bourbon, ginger liqueur, the grilled-apple juice, lemon juice, and bitters. Shake vigorously until cold. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer and into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and a grilled apple wedge. The strainer helps keep the cocktail as clear as possible since there’s a lot of pulp in the apples and in the cocktail shaker.
Dana Moos is the author of The Art of Breakfast: How to Bring B&B Entertaining Home, as well as a former innkeeper and has spent many years dazzling her guests with food and drink.