If you’re a whiskey cocktail lover, you’ve likely ordered a smoked cocktail out at an establishment, but there are easy ways to smoke cocktails 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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Why Smoke a Whiskey Cocktail?
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.
Things to Burn to Get a Smoky Flavor in a Cocktail
Adding smoke to your cocktail depends on what and how you burn. Here are a few ideas of things that can be used to create smoke for cocktails:
- wood chips/shavings
- whole spices
- woody herbs like rosemary and lavender
Four 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 smoke a drink 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 add smoke 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.
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 use this technique:
- 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.
How to Smoke a Cocktail: Smoke-Rinsing a Drink
Adding a touch more smoke to the drink overall, smoking a cocktail adds some light smoke components to a drink above a torched cocktail garnish.
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 cocktail in. The easiest way to do that is to use a wide-mouthed jar or container with a lid and fill it with smoke.
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 to do the following technique:
- On a heat-proof surface (either ceramic or wooden), 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 prepare your cocktail.
- 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.
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 cocktail. 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.
While each type of smoker is slightly different, each one has a container for the combustible chips/contents, and a flue that delivers the smoke to the cocktail and glass.
Here’s an example of this type of cocktail smoker. I was gifted this