In the same way that sweet corn charred on the grill becomes more deep and flavorful, capturing aromatic trails from wood chips or bitters lends bourbon cocktails a little something extra to reign in the spirit’s sweetness. And you don’t always need to have fancy expensive equipment to get great results; a smoker box or even a lit wood stave or cedar plank can do the trick. Get fired up about these smoked bourbon cocktails whose claim to fame is the flame.
This Old Fashioned riff at popular restaurant TMACS, in the heart of Walla Walla in Washington state’s wine country, gets its smoky notes from a double dose of ice made with water that has been smoked with cherrywood chips. The cubes are stirred with the other ingredients to chill and dilute the drink, and the concoction is also served over a smoky cube.
“As the smoke flavor from the aromatic infusion dissipates, the cocktail slowly infuses with the water from the smoked ice and maintains the prominence of smoke throughout the entirety of the cocktail experience,” says owner Logan Thies. The orange flavor comes from Aperol, which replaces the orange rind in the original. “The brightening that the citrus oil introduces is beautiful, but I wanted to make the drink more defined and complex while staying true to its nature,” he says.
Smoking a cocktail glass using a lit sprig of a stalky herb like thyme, rosemary or lavender not only adds flavor but is a fun parlor trick for a cocktail party. “This combination is perfect because the homemade pumpkin butter adds depth and richness to the bourbon, along with a touch of fall spice,” says Zachary Gross, the beverage director at Sen Sakana in New York City. “This whole combination is completed by smoking the cocktail with thyme, which is another essential fall flavor.
John Filkins, the beverage director at Officina and Masseria in Washington, D.C., wanted to do a richer version of a Boulevardier, including adding a whiff of smoke. He boils Fee Brothers. Aztec chocolate bitters and cardamom bitters, taking advantage of the fact that since they’re both glycerin-based they smoke but don’t burn the way those made from alcohol would. A snifter is filled with smoke and covered with a coaster, and the drink is then poured tableside from a carafe.
“Chinato is a great replacement for vermouth and adds an herbal complexity, [while] dry curaçao helps to lift it,” says Filkins. “The smoke adds a wow factor when it goes to the table, and chocolate and cardamom bring aromatic complexity and warm baking spices.”
Jake Larowe, the bar manager at Birds & Bees in Los Angeles, says he wanted to do a decadent cocktail in a playful way. This Manhattan riff is added to a decanter that’s smoked with cherrywood. It reminds him of waiting tables in college and taking that quick cigarette break outside after the rush is over. “We wanted to create the cocktail that you look forward to after a long day at work,” he says.