If you’re reading this magazine then there is, I’m assuming, a very high possibility that you enjoy a smoky dram from time to time. That unique, heady and captivating complexity that comes from the salt and sea air drifting in from Islay or one of the other islands off Scotland’s coast. The Laphroaigs and Lagavulins are not for everybody and as a career bartender I know all too well the trials and tribulations of attracting new drinkers to the joys of a smoky tipple.
One road that many are willing to take, however, is trying these complex malts in a cocktail. A little goes a long way though and it doesn’t even need to be the base spirit, but used rather as an accent as one would use, say, bitters in a drink. Some bartenders also choose to just coat the inside of a glass with said Scotch – as is done in the classic Smoky Martini. Heck while you’re at it, why not garnish it with a skewered piece of smoked Scottish salmon?
I’m serious. The most remarkable Smoky Martini ever put to these lips was at Rome’s opulent Supper Club, where former head bartender Leonardo Leuci rinsed the glass with Lagavulin infused with Montecristos.
Others might even spray their chosen malt over the top of their libations using an atomizer or eye dropper, adding a wonderful briny aroma as you take your first sip. You’ll be transported to Port Ellen in a jiffy.
As an example, and one of the few drinks that has become a modern classic around the world is the Penicillin, created by Aussie bartender Sam Ross, of New York’s famed Milk & Honey.
It might well be the best cocktail I’ve ever tried. But I’ll let the man speak for himself: “It’s essentially a riff on a Gold Rush (a bourbon sour done with honey). The bourbon was replaced with the Compass Box Asyla and while it had a little spice and tang, it was missing an element: smoke. A little drizzle of the Peat Monster on top was the trick. This drink plugged a gap in the marketplace as bartenders were not really experimenting with any good Scotches.
“I really wanted to utilise the smokiness of an Islay malt without overpowering the cocktail. This is what I call a gateway whiskey cocktail, as it is a good starting point for a Scotch novice, but also has a ton of complexity to satisfy any hardened whiskey drinker.”
But what about using smoke in other ways? And why has smoke suddenly become such a popular ingredient for the world’s most creative bartenders? Another smoky base can be achieved by using Mezcal, currently the darling of the cocktail world. But don’t be fooled into thinking all of them are smoke bombs; some indeed show a floral elegance that can add oh-so-much to a well crafted cocktail.
One of the world’s most brilliant bar talents, Eben Freeman, (reluctantly) made a name for himself using scientific techniques learnt at New York’s temple to molecular gastronomy WD-50. There, he perfected his Waylon Cocktail (which would eventually find a home at Tailor restaurant); essentially a bourbon and coke, where he cold smoked the Coca Cola syrup and put it back in the soda system. Simple. Delicious.
He attributes this current infatuation with smoky cocktails to Americans love of barbeque and an intrinsic familiarity with those flavours.
“It was [pastry chef] Sam Mason who showed me that liquids can be smoked when he was making a smoked vanilla ice cream at restaurant WD~50.
Freeman says: “I loved the pun of smoked coke and worked during the opening of Tailor to perfect the system of using a soda gun based on my experience with soda systems.”
Recently I’ve started experimenting with smoked ice cubes. One of our chefs at The Dutch, located in the heart of New York’s Soho, smoked some water which I then froze in a shallow pan. I used an ice pick to carve out rough blocks of ice that ended up looking a bit like fossils and would fit into an old fashioned glass. Negronis and Manhattans – my two all time favourite cocktails –were the first experiments and turned out very well.
As a non-smoker I felt like I’d licked an ashtray. A really, really delicious one though.
Out in Portland, Even Zimmerman has been using smoked ice cubes for a few years now and says that wherever he’s gone “that drink has sort of followed me around. Even though I don’t particularly like smoke as a flavor, the smoked ice cubes add a very subtle nuance to the drink. His drink, Smoke Signals, is a remarkable mix of wheated bourbon, manzanilla sherry and pecan syrup.
The smoky nuances in a cocktail don’t always have to come from the liquid itself. Something more subtle like a smoked garnish (or a smoked salt rim on a Margarita, yes please!) can add a subtle yet wonderful smoky lift also.
Our White Manhattan at The Dutch is a hugely popular drink that is finished with a fresh cherry which we smoke in house for about 15 minutes. It’s proved a delightful surprise when the drink is finished. Because that in itself can be a sad moment.
White ManhattanCreated by Naren Young – The Dutch, New York CityINGREDIENTS
- 60ml Death’s Door white whiskey
- 30ml Dolin Blanc vermouth
- 2 barspoons Kirschwasser
- 1 barspoon Buffalo Trace white dog
- 4 dashes Jasmine & Rose tincture
Stir with ice and strain into a frozen cocktail glass.METHOD
A fresh smoked cherry.
PenicillinCreated by Sam Ross – Milk & Honey, New York CityINGREDIENTS
- 60ml Pig’s Nose Scotch
- 20ml lemon juice
- 15ml honey syrup (3:1)
- 15ml sweetened ginger juice (4 parts ginger juice: 3 parts granulated sugar)
Shake and strain on 1 large ice cube.
Float of Laphroaig on top.
Beer and a smokeCreated by Jim Meehan – PDT, New York CityINGREDIENTS
- 30ml Sombra mezcal
- 20ml lime juice
- 1 dash The Bitter Truth celery bitters
- 4 dashes Cholula hot sauce
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled Collins glass rimmed with kosher salt, celery salt and ground black pepper.
Top with Pilsner.
Big AppleCreated by Naren YoungINGREDIENTS
- 45ml Laird’s Bonded Applejack
- 15ml apple eau de vie
- 7ml St Germain
- 15ml smoked apple juice
- 15ml lime juice
- 15ml mint syrup
Shake and double strain into a frozen cocktail glass.GARNISH
3 thin slices of apple and spray with Caol Ila.