Chances are, if you see a drink with smoke billowing out of it, you’re going to want it. Never mind that you hate amaro or aged rum or whatever is actually in the glass. The allure of an aesthetically-pleasing cocktail is sometimes too much (plus, at the very least you can tap into your inner child and pretend you’re part of the Midnight Society, if but for a few seconds).
These cocktails may look complicated, but what if we told you that you could make smoked cocktails at home with only a few tools. For under $100, you can get everything you need to make smoked Old Fashioneds or smoke Manhattans or smoked whatever you want whenever you want.
Before we get into what you need, we want to remind you that, just like practicing grill safety, it’s important to practice smoking cocktail safety. Fire is still involved and if you’re hammered, you just might light yourself on fire and not the applewood chips you’re using to make that smoked Paloma.
Basic Tools for Making Smoked Cocktails
To start, you’ll need a safe place to create a fire. You can either dedicate a wooden cutting board to these cocktails or simply use a few layers of aluminum foil over a wooden board you already own. Use the foil directly on your counters at your own risk.
Regardless of how you create the smoke, glass is your best friend when it comes to smoking cocktails. If you’re more concerned with imparting flavor, go for chilled drinks using a glass decanter (you can use one from your home bar set or a just a wide-lipped, clear bottle). With these containers, you can seal and swirl or shake your way to a smokey paradise.
You can also use a glass dome, usually used for cakes and other desserts, or the serving glass itself for a more subtle smoke palate. Placing the final (ungarnished) drink under a smokey dome builds drama towards the reveal. Smoke in an overturned glass will coat the sides as you prepare the drink itself.
Different methods require practice to nail down your ideal level of smokey flavor, but a general rule is to keep the smoking process under two minutes or even less if you’re using a bottle/decanter. This technique should accent your drinks, not overpower them.
Here’s where you can get really creative. What you choose to burn will have a unique effect on the final drink. You can go the traditional with mesquite or oak wood chips, or try fruitier barks (like cherry) or aroma-forward herbs (like dried rosemary) or even teas (Earl Grey works wonderfully with a variety of cocktails). Matches or a kitchen blowtorch (see below) are the best options for lighting your choice of kindling. Get a good blaze going before you blow it out, so you can really make those embers work for you in your chosen container. Remember to have some sort of fire suppressant nearby, just in case.
One of two options when it comes to the actual item needed for smoking, a kitchen blowtorch gives you the chance to light something on fire, blow it out, and watch the smoke rise. A handy item to have on hand for numerous things — Feeling like s’mores, but don’t have a fire going? Blowtorch — a kitchen blowtorch could be your best friend when it comes to smoking drinks.
An atomizer or mister can prove handy if you like the idea of creating smoked syrups on the fly. You won’t get actual smoke, but you will get to play with fire. Add some fruit and sugar to a cocktail mixing glass and mist the interior with some Angostura bitters as an accelerant. You can make your own blowtorch with the atomizer and a lighter, cooking and caramelizing the fruit while smoking the mixing glass — though, as with another item on this list (see dry ice below), this can be a dangerous option, especially if you are under the influence.
These are the most expensive tool for smoked cocktails, but they blow the lid off of other smoking options when it comes to ease of use. Just add your kindling, turn the gun on, and light the kindling. The fan sucks the flame towards the machine, sending the smoke through a tube that can easily be led to any container. You can find one for as little as $28 or you can shell out more and pay $160 for a top-of-the-line smoke gun.
Fry ice is an option, though it is very dangerous to work with and used less often than a smoking gun or simply lighting herbs or wood chips on fire. If you are after theatrics, but not a smokey flavor, this may be your option, but again, it can be very dangerous. Food-grade ice chips are a specialty item, but not difficult to find and drop into a drink. Large bricks of dry ice are easier to come by, if you’re willing to chip it down. All dry ice will sink to the bottom of a drink, but extra care should always be taken when using this method.