What’s a smoky cocktail?
All scotch has some degree of smokiness, with grain whiskey having the least and Islay Malt whiskey having the most. Then there is mezcal, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave) native to Mexico. When either of these are added to a drink, it becomes “smoky.”
The LA Times explains, “Both Islay whisky and mezcal have found their way into all sorts of drinks, a splash and a dash at a time. One early entry in the smoky-drink category was the Penicillin from Sam Ross of Milk & Honey in New York, a cocktail of ginger, honey, lemon and blended scotch, with a small float of Islay. Created in 2005, the libation has become a popular smoke drink, likely put on more menus in the past two years than in the previous five combined.
Soon bartenders were smoking all manner of ingredients, even ice. The crafty mixologists of Portland pioneered the process of melting ice in the presence of smoke, then refreezing it to trap the flavor. They injected smoke into bottles to infuse the spirits within. Bartenders used stove-top smokers and barbecue grills to smoke fruits that were then pureed into syrups or infused into bitters and tinctures. Others took the practice tableside, lighting wood chips and filling glasses with smoke before serving.
To counter the blast of smoke, bartenders are using equally robust mixers. These include bolder sweeteners like honey, spicy ingredients like ginger, amplified juices like pineapple gomme syrup and floral flavors like chamomile tea and elder-flower liqueur. Coincidentally or not, honey, ginger and florals are some of the other most popular flavors on drink menus today.
A mere five years ago, the smoke drink seemed like a gimmick; today it’s a menu staple, one of the largest cocktail trends in some time. Consider it flavorful evidence of the bright flame of darker spirits.”
Ask your local bartender for some smoky cocktail suggestions, or order up one of these top picks from some New York City bars.
The Oaxacan Dream from Viktor & Spoils. The Oaxacan Dream combines Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and a grilled pineapple garnish.
The Smoked Negroni from Apotheke. For the smoke aspect of the Smoked Negroni, Lapsang Souchong tea is infused into gin, and then stirred together with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Aperol.
The Sea Smoke from the Blue Owl cocktail room. The Sea Smoke Cocktail packs some smoky punch, yet relieves the palate with the smooth flavors of a rosemary-watermelon syrup. To this, fresh lime juice, Milagro silver tequila, and Ilegal Joven Mezcal are added to a shaker full of ice and shaken awake. You’ll get a slight tinge of smoke from the Mezcal, but never overpowering.
The Embers Only at Bobo. The Embers Only, incorporates smoked bourbon, root liqueur, and walnut bitters.