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Smokin’ Cocktails at Home
Three Techniques for Smoldering Winter Sippers
Adding a subtle hint of smoke to classic cocktails raises the bar on what a home bartender can add to the party. There are several ways to safely produce smoky libations at home.
Using your oven to infuse smoke into the water you’ll tap for ice cubes elevates even a simple gin and tonic. This timeless combination will still look like very much like itself and the first sip won’t differ from your taste memory, but as the ice melts, the smoke will slowly transform the cocktail into a winterized experience. If you freeze lime segments into the smoky cubes, their flavor will also be more prevalent as time passes.
To make smoky ice cubes, you need smoky water. Preheat your broiler and turn your exhaust fan on high. Scatter a half cup of applewood smoking chips in a large sauté pan and place it on the top shelf under the broiler. Keep a very watchful eye on the chips (don’t take your eyes off them, actually) and when they just start to catch fire, immediately (and with a protective potholder) pull the pan out from under the broiler. Toss the chips in the pan until they smolder and any flame is snuffed out. Repeat this process a couple of times until you achieve an even, billowing smoke. Transfer the chips to the bottom of a cast-iron pot, place a ceramic ramekin of water on top of the chips, and cover the pot. Slide the pot into a 280-degree oven and smoke the water for an hour. Wood chips burn between 300 and 400 degrees, so keeping the oven below 300 degrees lets them smoke without burning, which would give the water a bitter tinge. Remove the pot from the oven and cool the water for five minutes before pouring it into ice cube forms—with or without limes—and freezing it.
Dry-toasting spices to flavor a simple syrup and adding a bit of char to your planned garnish are two more ways to push smoke into a cocktail. I toasted cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, star anise, and cardamom pods in a saucepan before making a spiced simple syrup with them, then grilling poached pear slices for a pear-themed drink (see Smoky Poire Harvest recipe). But other wintery combinations include toasted whole cloves and grilled orange slices; toasted coriander seeds and charred lemons would work well too.
The final method requires a smoking gun. This is a great addition to a kitchen arsenal as the wow factor it provides for both cocktail makers and home cooks (have you ever tasted smoked lobster?) is worth the $100 purchase price. To use a smoking gun for a drink, make the cocktail and pour it into a very chilled glass. Place the filled glass under a cloche. The time spent trapped under the domed glass creates a well-rounded, smoky drink. But since you don’t remove the cloche until the drink is set before its intended drinker, the presentation facilitated by the smoking gun is nothing less than killer.
Smoky Poire Harvest
3 ounces pear brandy
2 ounces maple liqueur
1 teaspoon Smoky and Spiced Pear Simple Syrup (recipe below)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Glass: Stemmed wine glass or coupe
Garnish: 2 segments of grilled pear (recipe below)
Combine pear brandy, maple liqueur, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker and stir. Pour into a chilled wine glass or coupe glass with ice. Garnish with grilled pears.
Smoky and Spiced Pear Simple Syrup
Makes 1 ½ cups
1 pear (firm, not overripe)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 black peppercorns
2 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods
6 tablespoons sugar
Peel the pear, cut into 8 segments, and remove seeds. Heat a grill pan, sauté pan, or your grill to medium-high heat. Place the pear segments in the pan or on the grill and cook until golden brown and sporting defined grill marks. Cover and infuse the smoke for 10 minutes.
Remove the grilled pears and set aside.
In a small pan over low heat, toast cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise, and cardamom pods, stirring often, until fragrant (3–4 minutes). Add 1 ½ cups water and sugar and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add pear segments to the pan and return syrup to a boil. Remove the pan from the stove, cover, and set aside for an hour to poach pears. Remove pears from syrup and set aside. Place syrup over medium-high heat; simmer to reduce by it half. Strain syrup and cool completely before using.
Smoked Black Manhattan
4 ounces rye whiskey
2 ounces Amaro Averna
4 dashes Angostura bitters
Equipment: Smoking gun, cherry wood chips, cloche
Glass: Rocks glass
Garnish: 4 Luxardo cherries
In a shaker, combine 10 ice cubes, rye, Averna, and bitters. Stir and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with a couple of ice cubes. Garnish with cherries. Place the cocktail under a cloche and use a smoking gun fueled by the wood chips to create a dense smoke under the cloche. Let the cocktail smoke for 5–10 seconds before removing the cloche. The cold drink and glass will allow the cold smoke to linger on the liquid, making for a great presentation.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut and raised in Maine, Derek showed a passion for food from an early age. Beginning with a small bakery in Maine, formal training at The Culinary Institute of America, then Pastry Chef at The White Barn Inn in 1999 under the tutelage of Jonathan Cartwright, Executive Sous Chef and then appointed Executive Chef... Derek has been a long-time part of the culinary world in Maine and beyond. He joined the Edible Maine team to pursue a career outside of the kitchen while still maintaining a connection to food.