Here at the Craft Gin Club we love experimenting - and then letting you guys know the results! This month we turned our hand to smoking cocktails…
If bonfires are beyond you and your flat lacks a fireplace, a little smoke will bring the spirit of the season to your next party.
For centuries, autumn was a time of bounty and celebration – but our ancestors were also well aware of the encroaching winter. They would have spent their November nights smoking their bounty of meat and fish before an open fire, in a bid to preserve protein sources for the lean winter months.
These days, we’ve kept up with the harvest celebrations and all but forgotten the scarcity to follow –when we smoke food, it’s more for flavour than preservation. But you may be surprised to learn that the same chemical reaction that makes smoked salmon so scrumptious can be applied to your favourite cocktail.
As David Wykes, the man behind restaurant Verveine, explains, “We mainly smoke either the drink in the glass or a part of the drink. We do this to give a more savoury element to a sweeter drink, or a more luxurious mouthfeel.”
Indeed, smoking cocktails, spirits and garnishes has been trending in the mixology community for many years. An impressive show at posh bars, smoking a cocktail can also take the familiar into uncharted territory.
Jody Buchan, a co-founder of Edinburgh cocktail bar KIN with a degree in chemical engineering, says, “It may be to add a different texture to the drink, or it may be to add a whole new dimension to an already classic recipe.”
At Verveine, David mixes up several smoked Martinis, including a Burnt Pine Martini and a Dirty and Smokey Martini by the Sea, where he cold smokes seaweed and infuses it into the gin, resulting in a smoky, salty tipple well-suited to his seafood restaurant. But he’s also an advocate of smoking components of a drink, like the ice cubes – cold-smoked water, which is then frozen – or garnishes.
“We use charred and smoked citrus zest to finish gin and tonics,” he says. “When pink grapefruit is one of the botanicals, we dry some of the zest and either cold smoke or blowtorch it, then put it straight into the gin. It imparts a lovely, smoky citrus flavour that lifts the drink.”
For Jody, the visual spectacle of smoking cocktails can obscure the true purpose: to enhance the flavour. He says, “Personally, I think there’s a time and place for smoke in drinks. I’d say to anyone: experiment but ask yourself why you want the spirit or the cocktail to be smoked. Visually, it makes a statement, but quite often I’ve tried smoked cocktails where the smoke lends very little to the drink itself.”
When it comes to making your own smoked cocktails, the wow factor may very well be enough – especially when you’re trying to replicate the warm, raucous atmosphere of an ancient harvest party. And it can be surprisingly easy to achieve at home.
Jody recommends investing in a hand-held food smoker, which come with different wood chips to try. He says, “One of the best drinks I’ve ever had where smoke was used was up in Aberdeen – it was less about smoking the liquid, and more about smoking the glass.”
Another easy option is to grab a glass container (like an empty gin bottle!), a match and a small amount of a smoking material – you could try oak wood, alder wood or even oolong tea. Light a pile of the material, blow out the flame and place the glass container upside down over it to capture the smoke.
In the meantime, make up your cocktail (we recommend starting simple, with a Negroni). When the container is filled with smoke, pour in your cocktail, seal the container and shake. The longer you shake, the smokier your cocktail will be. Pour it, and presto – you have an autumnal nod to our ancestors with an extra kick!