There's something in the air as more mixologists flavor voguish drinks with a smoky accent. Full article brought to you by Monin®.
For years, bartenders have buddied up with chefs to borrow ingredients and equipment for creative cocktails. Some of the most unique fruits of this collaboration are libations perfumed with smoldering wood.
Taking a cue from the vast popularity of grilled, smoked and barbecued foods, some of these barkeeps commandeer the kitchen smoker to blast smoky accents directly into spirits. Others get equally impressive results by building drinks with smoky agents such as mezcal, Scotch whisky or specialty syrups imbued with the essence of smoke.
Whatever the method of preparation, the vogue for cocktails with smoky flavors, as well as those with spicy, bitter or sour impressions, is a testament to today’s skilled bar staffs and increasingly adventurous consumers, says Michael Green, a New York City-based wine and spirits authority. It’s a widespread, growing trend, not a fad.
“Now, it’s not just a handful of bar chefs in the big cities doing this; it is everywhere,” Green says. “It’s about getting back to the original roots of bartending more than 100 years or so, when they were creating their own infusions and simple syrups and unique ingredients.”
An example of the new smoky elixirs is New Money at Imperial, a Portland, Ore., restaurant with a penchant for local foods and wood-fired cookery. The drink combines bourbon, Italian amaro and bitters with smoked Italian sweet vermouth, creating what is essentially a smoked Manhattan.
“It’s still our best seller since the day we opened our doors,” reports Brandon Wise, bar manager of the Imperial, which opened in 2012, and its sister restaurant, Portland Penny Diner.
The smokiness lingers in a pleasant way, Wise says, adding nuance to the drink and allowing the other flavors to shine through.
“The smoke heightens the sensory experience,” Wise says. “Aroma is so closely tied to flavor.”
Patrons enjoy sipping it alongside chef-owner Vitaly Paley’s wood-grilled Pork Secreto, which absorbs smoke character by resting on a smoldering pinot noir barrel stave. “It’s all about matching like with like,” Wise says.
Wise says he initially soaked hickory chips in vermouth to create a hint of smokiness. He later found a better way — smoking the vermouth in the kitchen smoker over a custom blend of used pinot noir wine barrel chips and hickory. He advises that a cold smoke is essential for perfuming the vermouth without driving off its volatile herbal aromas.
At Talde, a casual Asian-American restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y., head bartender Bill Riley mixes a smoky signature that is popular with customers, the BBQ Negroni. It is a riff on the standard Negroni formula of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, varied by giving the latter a jaunt in the smoker.
“We wondered what would happen if we put the vermouth in the smoker,” Riley says. “It turned out to be a nice twist on the classic Negroni.”
Riley’s method is to pour the sweet vermouth into a shallow pan to maximize the surface area and smoke it for about four hours.
For good measure, he garnishes the drink with a burnt orange twist prepped with a blowtorch. “It adds a nice burnt, charred quality,” he says. “The oils get caramelized and the flavor is a little darker and deeper as opposed to citrusy and light.”
The fact that smoked food in general and barbecue in particular is trending on menus these days has boosted the drink’s appeal. “I think some people are drawn to it because they see BBQ on the menu,” Riley says.
The Sportsman’s Club in Chicago is taking a different route to smokiness. It gets it out of a bottle. Its Grizzly King cocktail mixes the smoky Mexican spirit mezcal with American rye whiskey, raw sugar syrup and two kinds of bitters in a glass rinsed with absinthe. The drink was a hit with guests recently at Sportsman’s, a new concept that updates a classic Chicago neighborhood tavern with spirits-forward cocktails.
The drink is a variation on the theme of the Sazerac, a classic New Orleans cocktail that co-managing partner Jeff Donahue says he was inspired to create after a trip to the Big Easy. Swapping mezcal for the Sazerac’s usual rye whiskey or Cognac lends the Grizzly King a distinctive allure.
“I really like the smoky element that mezcal brings,” Donahue says. “Plus it works really well with the flavors of the absinthe rinse.”
Mezcal has become the darling of patrons and barkeeps alike of late. It is made in Mexico by smoking the pina, or heart of the agave plant, in a pit of hot stones and fermenting and distilling its sugary juices.
“Only a few years ago, I think people were confused about it,” says Donahue. “They associated it with generic brands with the worm in bottle. But now, when we put mezcal cocktails on our menu they sell like crazy. People are really into the smoky, earthy elements.”