If you want to take your home bartending to the next level, learn how to smoke a cocktail! Here are four easy ways to make a smoky drink, from torched garnishes to smoked glasses.
If you’re a cocktail lover, you’ve likely ordered a smoked old fashioned or other smoked drink out at an establishment, but there are easy ways to make a smoky drink at home. Some require nothing more than what you already have, while other techniques require some special tools to get that lovely smoked aroma into your cocktails.
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First, let’s talk about why smoke and whiskey go together. Because bourbon, rye, and other American whiskies are usually aged in charred oak barrels, there’s a flavor link between smoke and whiskey.
When we think about the smell of smoke and our sensory associations with it, there’s often a memory link to the smell of wood as well. Often, bourbon and ryes aged in barrels have a touch of oak aroma and flavor in them. This is especially true for whiskies aged in small barrels or for a shorter period of time.
4 Ways to Smoke a Cocktail at Home
One of the wonderful things about smoking cocktails at home is your ability to directly control the amount of smoke you add by the method you choose. The lightest touch of smoke is sometimes all you need. Other cocktails with more aggressive flavor profiles, or ones that are very sweet or bitter, benefit from the addition of smoke to balance out the overall cocktail.
Let’s go through four methods to smoking drinks at home, in ascending order of smoke flavor they add to the cocktail:
- Smoked/torched garnish
- Smoking the cocktail contents – called smoke-rinsing the cocktail
- Using a cocktail smoker – smoke-rinsing the glass and cocktail together
- Smoking the cocktail glass – smoke-risning the glass
- Bonus: How to make a smoky drink if you don’t want to risk an open flame
I ordered these based on how much smoke these added as experienced by my palate. Other sources online list smoke-rinsing the glass as less smoky than smoke-rinsing the cocktail. In my experience, this was not the case. Experiment to find the best match of smoke level for your preference.
Smoked Cocktail Garnish
The easiest way to add just a touch of smoked flavor to a cocktail is to set the garnish on fire. This is easiest with hard whole spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise, dried fruits, cloves, etc. During the summer, torching woody herbs like rosemary, lavender and thyme add aromatics both of the herb itself and a touch of smoke.
Things to Burn to Add Smoky Flavor to a Cocktail
Making a smoked cocktail with fire depends on what and how you burn. Here are a few ideas of how to make a smoky drink by infusing smoke:
- wood chips/shavings
- whole spices
- woody herbs like rosemary and lavender
Around the holidays, I purchase a small rosemary bush to keep in the house so that I can trim off small stems to set alight for cocktails. Rosemary’s scent combines beautifully with both gin and whiskey cocktails, and its woody stem makes it a perfect garnish to use to smoke a cocktail.
Here are the steps to infusing smoke into a mixed drink:
- Prepare your cocktail and pour it into the serving glass.
- Next, light the garnish on fire until it catches and starts to smoke a bit.
- Extinguish the fire and set the still smoking garnish on the rim of the glass.
When served, the guest can decide if they want to drop the garnish in the drink to add some of the smoke and char to the cocktail itself as it sits and infuses. Or, they can choose to leave it on top of the cocktail glass, so that the aromatics are inhaled with each sip.
Either way, this is the most subtle of the smoking techniques. It’s also the simplest and requires no extra equipment beyond a match or kitchen torch and a garnish to set alight.
Smoke-Rinsing a Drink
To smoke-rinse a cocktail itself, you want to add smoke to a container, then swirl your cocktail around in that container before pouring it into the glass you’ll serve the smoky drink in.
With this method, you can choose to use wood chips, woody cocktail ingredients (like the ones used in the method above), a smoke board, or loose leaf tea to create the smoke. Each item will have different aromatic notes. Even different types of wood give a cocktail different smoke profiles.
I used this cocktail smoking kit I was gifted from Smoke Boards for this technique:
- On a heat-proof surface, set your smoking element alight. To get a great amount of smoke, heat it until it turns yellow and starts to flame.
- Set a wide-mouthed jar or container over the burning elements and leave it while you mix your drink.
- Chill or prepare your glass and set it aside.
- Prepare your cocktail in the mixing glass or shaking tin.
- Gently lift the smoke-filled jar and immediately strain your cocktail into the jar.
- Seal the jar and gently swirl/agitate the cocktail within the jar for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Pour the cocktail into the prepared glass, garnish and serve.
Using a Smoking Gun
Alternately you can use a smoking gun and a cloche to add smoke to a cocktail. In this case, you’ll prepare your cocktail, place it in the glass it’s served in, and set it under the cloche (which is a clear glass dome). Attach the smoke gun to the hole in the cloche, or place the tube for the smoker just under the edge of the cloche and create the smoke.
Allow the smoke to sit with the cocktail for a minute or so. When ready, remove the cloche and consume your smoky drink. While this method won’t add as much smoke to the cocktail itself, the smoke will cling to the outside of the cocktail glass and provide strong aromatics to the outside of the cocktail glass.
Using a Cocktail Smoker at Home
There are also cocktail smokers that sit atop a glass and allow you to add smoke to the glass and cocktail itself once it has been poured into its serving glass.
For these kinds of cocktail smokers, you get a bit more smoke flavor than just smoking the cocktail because you are adding smoke flavors to the cocktail AND to the glass itself.
To use this kind of cocktail smoker, follow these steps:
- Prepare your cocktail glass.
- Mix your cocktail.
- Pour your cocktail into the glass (adding ice or not as directed by the recipe).
- Place the smoker without the top on the cocktail glass.
- Fill the bowl with wood chips, dry whole spices, tea leaves or whatever combustible material you’re using to create the smoke.
- Set it afire and keep heat on it until it starts to really smoke and flame.
- Put the cap/top on the smoker and let it sit for a minute or two.
- Remove the smoker from the top of the cocktail and enjoy your smoked cocktail.
Smoking a Cocktail Glass
The easiest way to add the largest amount of smoke to a cocktail is by smoking the glass itself. While you would think that adding smoke to the contents of the cocktail would create the most smoke flavors, for me, adding smoke to the glass is the most intense smoking method.
Just as when you smoke your cocktail itself, decide on what elements you’ll use to create the smoke. Again using wood chips, a woody garnish, tea leaves or anything you can set afire with a great flavorful smoke will work.
Make sure you’re using food-grade elements. Wood chips should be untreated, and spices should be organic.
Smoking the glass is the same as smoking the cocktail, except you will add smoke to the serving glass. Letting the smoke coat the inside of the glass and letting it cool adds the fragrance to the inside and makes it slightly hazy. You can see the oils and smoke residue coating the interior of the glass.
Once you pour in our cocktail, the cocktail will pick up those aromatic notes and you’ll also have the flavor of the smoke from the glass itself as you take each sip.
How to Smoke a Drink Glass
- Prepare your cocktail glass. If it needs to be chilled, chill it. If it has a rim or a garnish to be added before pouring in the cocktail, do that now.
- Set the combustible materials on a heat safe surface and set it alight.
- Once it’s showing a flame and a good amount of smoke is being generated, set the prepared glass on top of the flame to extinguish it.
- Let the cocktail glass sit and steep with the smoke while you prepare the cocktail.
- Once prepared, lift your cocktail glass slowly and fill with ice if needed. Add your cocktail and finish garnishing the drink.
How to Make a Smoky Drink Without Fire
If you’d rather not take the risk of an open flame near alcohol, simply add a smoky flavored element to your drink!
Some easy ways to add smoke to a cocktail without a fire or torch:
- Add a touch of peated whiskey.
While Islay Scotch is an easy ingredient to add a boost of smoke, many whiskies have a touch of smoke in them. If you’re not a Scotch drinker, get a small mini of a peated Scotch – Lagavulin or Ardbeg – to add a barspoon to your cocktails.
- Add a bit of mezcal. Mezcal is an agave spirit made in certain regions in Mexico that’s got a wonderful smoky flavor to it. Mezcal’s smokiness tastes less of earth than Scotch, and usually has some herbaceousness to it.
- Add smoky bitters. My favorite smoked bitters are Hella Bitters Smoked Chili. They add a touch of heat and a bit of smoke to any cocktail. They are amazing in the Smoked Old Fashioned.
- Use smoked sugar or smoked salt.
Add Bourbon Barrel Foods Smoked Sugar in your cocktails and simple syrups to add smoke without overwhelming the palate.
- Use a pellet or electric smoker.
Fill a heat safe bowl with water and place it in the smoker after you finish smoking meat in it. Let the water smoke for 30 minutes to an hour. Next, allow it to cool before pouring it into an ice cube tray. A few hours later, you’ll have smoked ice to use in cocktails.
This post, originally published November 2021, was last updated in March 2023.