It's been said that where there's smoke, there's fire. In the winter months, that adage and the sentiment it carries can turn an average cocktail into a warmer, fuller libation and offer a toasty fireside nostalgia. Some spirits, such as mezcal and scotch, already provide a smokiness, but those behind the bar continue to pursue new and adventurous ways to make smoky drinks. While exploring NYC's cocktail scene, we discovered three variations on "smoking" a cocktail that a casual explorer can enjoy, or even make at home. Whether it's an alcohol rinse to glaze the glass, caramelizing ingredients or even setting a plank of wood ablaze, these accents make for a fine winter treat.
A trip to Williamsburg's Extra Fancy lead to a fire-tinged lesson with mastermind Danny Neff. His drink, the Caipi’Smoke’Ya, delivers a rich and robust flavor, banking on the addition of brown sugar, which is momentarily set aflame. As Neff puts it, "This is about showing the smokiness of the cocktail, not the scotch." Neff uses The Black Grouse as the base spirit for its natural smokiness and hints of wood. (This blended scotch whisky is a peatier version of its sister spirit, the Famous Grouse.) He then thought to "visually showcase how smoky the scotch is" and in doing so, created the drink.
2 oz. The Black Grouse
2 scoops brown sugar
2 lemon wedges
Neff places the brown sugar and the lemon wedges into a cocktail shaker. There, with a creme brûlée torch, he sets fire to them in bursts, encouraged by spritzes from an oil mister filled with 151. They never catch, but erupt with a theatrical flame. This allows for a nice smokey caramelization. Upon adding The Black Grouse, Neff shakes the drink. The concoction is then strained over ice in a rocks glass and welcomes a citrus garnish. This simple process—involving just a few ingredients—accesses a new flavor that pairs perfectly with The Black Grouse and yields a cocktail unlike any other.
Down at TriBeCa's new restaurant and bar American Cut, we sat with David Boxwill to experience the wondrous production of their Smoking Scotsman. This mixed drink welcomes the delicacy of Chivas 12, another blended scotch whisky. The Chivas doesn't overpower, making it a great partner for the cocktail, while also carrying a nose of cigar and tasting of vanilla with a little nuttiness.
2½ oz. Chivas 12
Maple smoked plank
One of the best cocktails we've ever tried, it's also one of the most interesting to watch being made or even make yourself. With a creme brûlée torch, a maple plank is scorched until the wood blackens and a small flame rises. While it's on fire, place a rocks glass atop the flame, stifling it and allowing the smoke to fill the glass. This process actually smokes the glass, leaving a strong residue on the surface.
While the glass fills, the Chivas is stirred with a few dashes of maple bitters (or regular bitters). The liquid is then poured over one large ice cube, placed in the center of the smoked glass. Boxwill notes that this drink is better when stirred and not shaken, as you want it perfectly see-though. You can accent the drink with orange or lemon peel, to your taste. The result is exciting, deep and full with the Chivas coming to life with sweetened smoke.
If you're not down for playing with fire, there's an even easier way to encourage smokiness, which we learned from Jason Cott and Troy Sidle of the acclaimed East Village cocktail establishment, Pouring Ribbons. There, a Rittenhouse Rye-based cocktail—the Blue Ridge Manhattan—gets a heavily smoked Laphroaig rinse. The powerful notes of the Islay single malt breathe smoke into the already potent Kentucky rye.
Blue Ridge Manhattan
2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
¾ oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
With a rinse of one dash Peach Bitters and Laphroaig.
In a coupe glass, pour one dash of peach bitters and just enough Laphroaig to be able to form a swirl that will coat the inner surface. This rinsing process leaves a flavorful residue on the glass before the actual cocktail enters. Combine all of the other ingredients, shake, strain and serve up. Pouring Ribbons garnishes the drink with a lemon pigtail twist. This modern Manhattan evolves from nose-to-sip-to-swallow, and invokes every flavor possible from the use of two vermouths and the bitters. Pouring Ribbons meticulously calculated the ingredient combinations and it paid off. This drink reveals the best in pairing spirits.
Photos by Karen Day