Where to Drink Smoked Cocktails
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In the very beginning, man created fire, and it was good. Then, a little while later, man created alcohol and things got even better. For a long time, both of these ingredients existed in very different realms — the alcohol behind the bar, and the smoke inside of the kitchen; however, as was recently reported in a feature in The New York Times, many of today’s cutting-edge bartenders are starting to rebel against the idea that the chefs are the only ones who should get to play with fire.
One of the most intriguing fads sweeping through the world of craft cocktails is the addition of smoke to list of ordinary bartending ingredients. The first examples can be traced to Manhattan’s now-defunct Tailor, where renowned bartender Eben Freeman smoked his own Coca-Cola syrup for signature Jack and Cokes. Smoking also comes in many other forms, including the use of the new Smoking Gun handheld smoker machine, which can infuse anything you’d want with the hefty, rich taste of burning mesquite or even the lighter air of smoldering flowers. Of course, there are more low-tech methods as well, with some bartenders preferring to give their cocktail glasses a hint of smoke by burning herbs and spices in a contained glass. Some bartenders, like Freeman, are even barging into the kitchen and commandeering the house smoker to get that full down-home flavor.
From the applewood-smoked ice at The Wayland in New York City to the smoked grapefruit oil in the Vixen’s Heart cocktail at Cure in New Orleans, there are plenty of tasty ways to experience this emerging behind-the-bar trend. If you’re looking for a more direct infusion of vapors, head to Washington, D.C. for The Columbia Room’s Ghost Dance, which is served in a glass that has been "rinsed" with smoke from burning bison grass and star anise (the glass is held upside down over the burning spices and the inside of the glass collects the smoke inside).
If you’re dying to try one of these smoky creations, there are easier ways to find your local bartender than looking for smoke signals. Just follow this handy list to the closest smoke-spouting bar.
Cure, New Orleans
This drink, from the Big Easy’s smoldering craft cocktail den, sets the tone of the experience with the name "The Vixen’s Heart." The rich Glenlivet 12 year Scotch is mixed with Cynar and Luxardo Amaretto, given a slight bite with the addition of a salt tincture, and then treated with smoked grapefruit oil to create something citrusy, complex, and wholly unforgettable.
The Aviary, Chicago
At Grant Achatz’s forward-thinking gastro-bar, The Aviary, it is pretty much expected that whatever cocktail you order is going to be unlike anything you’ve had before. Once they got their hands on a spent bourbon barrel charred on the inside and soaked in whiskey, though, it was guaranteed things were going to get fiery. The drink they came up with is called The Amaro, and is flavored by rinsing the glass with bourbon from the charred barrel, then adding flat house-made root beer, Cocchi (an Italian aperitif), and tequila. "Smoked" to perfection. (photo courtesy Arthur Bovino)
The Wayland, New York City
When you are served the Apple Pie Corn Likker and homemade spiced-apple bitters concoction called "The Old Back Woods" at the Wayland, you may only get a hint of smoke. Five minutes later, however, the drink grows into a smoky marriage of apple and spice. Wondering where all that smoke came from? Well, the last place you’d expect: the ice. Yes, this warm-and-cold collaboration is made with water infused with applewood smoke, which is then frozen to make the ice cubes used in the drink. The overall feel is a growing sensation of smokiness that adds a deep homey layer to this backwoods cocktail. (photo courtesy Yelp/Robert C.)
Bar 1886 at The Raymond, Pasadena, Calif.
At Bar 1886, the smokiness is front and center in their latest invention, The Smoking Jacket. This drink, aiming to capture the classiness of a glass of whiskey and a fine stogie, features Irish whiskey, their house tobacco bitters, maplewood smoke, and orange vanilla ash. This drink is so smoke-laden that it comes with its own Surgeon General’s warning, so you know it must be good.
Craftbar, New York City
Craftbar, in New York City, is taking the classic Negroni — arguably one of bartenders’ favorite cocktails — and giving it a whole new level of depth by smoking their Campari in-house. While most smoked drinks are made with the more naturally smoky whiskies or rums, this drink is created with gin, and has an unexpected, deep, and refreshing result.
The Bristol, Chicago
Another bar unafraid of taking the Smoking Gun to a classic cocktail is The Bristol in Chicago. Here, they take on the Manhattan, except they use Averna Amaro instead of vermouth, and add in blood orange bitters for extra kick. The real game-changer, however, comes from the house-smoked Maker’s Mark bourbon, which brings the cocktail to a whole new level.
The Columbia Room, Washington, D.C.
This special cocktail by Derek Brown and his team at The Columbia Room is a very straightforward demonstration of smoke done right. Mr. Brown has nearly perfected the use of smoke in a cocktail, and this is demonstrated by his latest creation, The Ghost Dance. This ominously named cocktail is flavored by first burning bison grass and star anise, then holding the cocktail glass over the smoldering spices to rinse the inside with the fragrant smoke. After the smoke has flavored the glass, Calvados, Fernet-Branca and simple syrup are added, and the dance begins. (photo courtesy Yelp/KanKan T.)
AQ, San Francisco
At AQ in San Francisco, someone is playing on a Mexican Piano. Hell, anyone can play it, as long as they have a blowtorch. The Mexican Piano is the smoky specialty of the bar at this San Francisco hot spot, with torched bay leaf smoke trapped under ice in a glass, then covered up with tequila, lime juice, and huckleberry-tarragon syrup. Of course, musical or not, this flaming Piano is guaranteed to have you up and dancing all night.
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