kay okay, so I borrowed the pic above from LA times , I could have tried to replicate it at home in my brown 70’s kitchen but I doubt it would have resulted in such a dramatic, sexy photo. I am guilty as charged, its a fair cop mate and all that!
My other admission is I have a penchant for a bit of the old smoke, be it from an earthy Mezcal, a peaty bottle of Scotch whiskey, wood smoked bacon or just standing next to a bonfire will usually satisfy my senses, even if momentarily.It must be a primal thing, as a species we’ve been fascinated by fire and smoke since the days of the cave man, smoke adds a hearty , almost comforting flavor to whatever it touches and fire serves to intensify flavor. In Scotch making Peat fires are used to smoke the barley for whiskeys from Islay, Mezcal the sultry more serious Oaxacan sister of Tequila derives its flavor from the agave hearts that are roasted in underground pit ovens before being fermented and distilled. Even teas can be smoked, the Chinese tea Lapsang Souchong is made by smoking the tea leaves over pine fires, its not the prettiest of flavors I will admit but add some sugar and wee dram of whiskey it enlivens your senses and makes you think of crisp winter evenings by the fireside , or at least it does that to me. If you want to take the Lapsang challenge I have a recipe below in bar basics for a quick smoked tea liqueur, let me know what it makes you think of, I wish I could say prize awarded for the most imaginative, maybe a cup of tea round my house with a pack of Hob Nob biscuits and a deep discussion with my room mate on Independent cinema . But I digress, the Chinese go one step further with the tea and use it to smoke food, tea smoked tofu or fish or fruit, they do it by adding tea,uncooked rice and sugar to the base of a wok then adding a basket over the top that holds whatever they want to smoke. Genius Chinese, its an incredible flavor!
All this smoke whispering got me to thinking how I could incorporate said smoke into beverage making.On a recent project I was given I decided to try my hand at smoking Tequila, a co-worker and well respected bartender gave me a wink and said “you know you could use Mezcal instead” for this instance though I wanted to capture that just off the bonfire flavor so for me only wood smoke would do.I also smoked some tomato water to do a twist on a Chelada ( Mexican beer drink that includes tomato juice). The smoke heightened certain notes of the tequila and added a lovely nuance, for a bit of the old theatrics I added a curl of smoke to each glass before serving, it lingered in a ghostly wisp inside the jar
Its not as hard as it sounds,though I recommend doing this outside rather than in your fire alarm rigged house, I was taught this technique by a butcher: take a metal baking pan , in one corner add a pile of damp wood chips ( the water is needed to make more smoke) on the opposite side of the pan insert a smaller metal bowl with the liquid you want to smoke inside it, make sure it will not spill out and drown your wood chips. Cover the whole shebang with saran making sure that there’s enough coverage on the sides so that when the warm air from the smoked wood rises it does push the smoke out of your ill wrapped pan. Set the pan on an even surface with the wood chippy end hanging off, you need to hang off so you can aim some heat at it in the form of a torch, Enter stage right: the culinary torch, ($19.99 from sur la table or in LA, Surfas) light the torch and direct the flame at the underbelly of your pan where the wood is sitting, it will take a moment to see the smoke starting to curl, I usually do in 1 minute bursts, testing the flavor in between each torching.
An alternative method would be to use the Smoking Gun from Poly Science, its an investment of around $100 but if you plan to use it often it will pay off for its ease of use and fast results. Mind its not nearly as fun and science projecty as the pan method above.
As well as smoked tequila try scotch and bourbon or gin and vodka for smoky martinis(try an orange twist to complement your martini instead of lemon),or even Coca Cola, how about a a smoked Jack and Coke or smoked rye and Rootbeer, or just smoke your glass before adding ice and cocktail, use a wood chip , bay leaf, pile of tea or spice,place it on a small plate, set it on fire and place your cocktail glass over the top to collect the smoke kind of like a bell jar. A couple of clever bartenders in San Fran throw the smoking bay leaf into the glass and top it with ice so it traps the smoke, there’s no wrong way to do it and its fun I think to try different methods. I even used eucalyptus leaves from the tree outside my door, the leaves were young so they added a lovely citrus scent to my cocktail. The best results I’ve found come from bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise pods and chai tea, try experimenting too with different woods , apple, cherry, hickory most popular, wood soaked in sherry works lovely too as does cotton wool soaked in essential oils thats then set alight. Be warned some dry herbs make your house smell like Dr. Green has made a house-call if you know what I mean.
If all this sounds like too much hard work you could always resort to just using a smoky Scotch or Mezcal in your drink making. Islay in Scotland is called the capital of smoke for producing the largest amount of smoky scotches, the smoke comes from drying damp barley over burning peat fires. The scotch I turn to the most is Laphroaig, this was my Pop’s favorite holiday nightcap and the one thing my Dad and brother could agree on so understandably I have a soft spot for it, though it took me a while to appreciate but now I cant imagine a great scotch cocktail without it, its a gorgeous partner to citrus especially orange and Japanese Yuzu. Or Mezcal, try your next salt rimmed margarita with Mezcal instead of Tequila and let me know what you think, Mezcal is a great companion to savory, such as celery or cucumber but can also be mixed with florals and aromatics, its a pretty versatile addition to the liquor cabinet if you ask me.
Here’s a couple of drink ideas for you:
1 oz Vida Mezcal
1 oz Ballantines blended scotch whisky
1 oz Cocchi Americano ( see previous post for flavor profile)
3/4 oz agave syrup
1 oz lime juice
grey or smoked salt and cucumber slices for garnish
1 bay leaf for smoking
Add all of you ingredients except for the garnish into your boston shaker, shake over ice until you get a nice frost on your tin , about 40 seconds should do, meanwhile have your bay leaf, ice cube rock and glass ready, set fire to the bay leaf and place into your glass, add your ice cube/s strain cocktail into the glass, garnish with sprinkle of salt onto ice cube and finish with couple of slices of cucumber, I like Persian or hot house English varieties.
2 oz smoked Ballantine’s blended scotch whiskey
1 oz lapsang liqueur
1 oz Oj (fresh squeezed makes all the difference and is less acidic)
1/2 oz amaro Cio Ciaro
1/2 oz egg white
star anise pod and orange twist for spritzing
On a small non flammable surface place your anise pod, set it alight then place your inverted glass on top of it, the flame will extinguish and the smoke will fill up your glass. Leave until ready to fill glass with cocktail. In your Boston shaker add all ingredients except for the orange peel and star anise pod , dry shake (without ice) for about 20 seconds to whip the egg white and aerate it, add a couple of small ice cubes and give a good shake for about 40 seconds. Grab both your wire and coco strainers, strain though coconut strainer into your smoky glass, finish with orange oil spritz ( take peel and give it a squeeze so oils drop onto glass and drink) from your peel and top with the burnt anise pod.
2 oz Ballantines or Famouse Grouse blended scotch
1 oz lapsang liqueur
1/2 oz Laphroaig single malt
orange twist for garnish
applewood chip for smoking
On a non flammable surface such as a small plate place your wood chip and set alight, place your cocktail glass over the top inverted like a bell jar. In a mixing glass add your scotch, bitters and tea liqueur, add ice and stir for about 40 seconds. Up turn your cocktail glass and quickly add your ice cube/s to trap smoke, strain cocktail into glass and garnish with a flamed orange twist, do this by squeezing the orange oils from a strip of zest over a match, the heat will intensify the oils as they drop onto the drink. Rub the twist on the rim of the glass and plop into the glass to rest on top of the ice.
2 oz of your choice: tequila, vodka, mezcal, aquavit, gin
2 oz smoked tomato water
1/4 – 1/2 oz hot pepper sauce or paste, I love Japanese Yuzukosho for its fragrance and pepperiness.
1 oz lime juice
1 oz celery juice
pinch grey or smoked salt ( softer and less punch in the face salty)
pinch pimenton or Spanish Espellete ( smoked paprika will do too)
4 dash celery bitters, I prefer Bitter Truth‘s version
olives of your choice for garnish
beer of your choice to top off, about 1 1/2 oz needed, I tend to use mexican beer like Pacifico but also love Hitachino Red Rice ale.
Throw everything into your glass or mason jar except for beer and olives, add ice and give a good stir, the reason you are not shaking is that you don’t want to dilute the tomato water too much. Top off with beer, a pinch more salt and pimenton then add your crucified olives on their skewer.
Coco strainer, used for a double strain to eliminate ice shards from “Up” drinks as well as globs of egg white in sours etc.
bog standard Hawthorn strainer, the basic but trusted and inexpensive version.
the Wusthof badass strainer, if you’re into gadgets and showing off this one will make you happy, no bells and whistles really just dead sexy!
Lapsang tea liqueur
You will need:
4 ounces lapsang souchong tea
6 cups boiling water
6 cups organic cane sugar
1 750 ml bottle of white rum, such as Cruzan
1. Steep tea in boiling water for an hour.
2. Strain infusion through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer and discard tea leaves.
3. Pour tea then rum into a large saucepan. Simmer the mixture — but DO NOT let it boil –
– for about 10 minutes.
4. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves.
5. Strain tea and decant it into bottles.
Read the what the LA Weekly has to say about it in this article
Smoked Tomato Water
You will need:
6 juicy ripe tomatoes, if Heirlooms are in season use those their flavor is sublime
strainer lined with cheesecloth or in a pinch kitchen towel
smoking gun with applewood chips
1.Wazz your tomatoes in a blender.
2.Toss into your towel lined strainer and set over a bowl.
3.Cover the strainer and bowl with plastic wrap and set in fridge overnight, yes sorry,no magical instant results here but its well worth it.
Once you have about 2 cups of the tomato nectar collected in bowl, you have a choice either keep the liquid clear or add a couple of teaspoons of the red pulp back in for color, up to you if you want your mary looking bloody or anaemic. For the purpose of a prettier photo I added some pulp back in then covered the bowl with fresh plastic wrap, cut a small slit in top and inserted the smoking gun’s tube into hole, sealing it with masking tape. Ignite your applewood chips in the smoking chamber and let it do its thing for about 30 seconds – 1 minute. Remove tube and reseal slit in plastic and gently rock the bowl to mix the liquid and smoke molecules into a state of Osmosis (where molecules interchange, in this case so that smoke flavor transfers into tomato water) . Leave for about 5 minutes and you’re pretty much done and ready to make your Contrary Mary.
Photography by Patrick O’Brien-Smith
CioCiaro Amaro, originally produced in 1873 from a carefully guarded botanical recipe, Amaro CioCiaro is a a deliciously bittersweet Italian liqueur. Though most often enjoyed as a digestivo after dinner, Amaro CioCiaro’s earthy, herbal character makes it a great cocktail component. Amaro is typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels in alcohol, either neutral spirits or wine, mixing the filtrate with sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in casks or bottles
Vida Mezcal, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals are created in extremely small quantities following traditional production methods developed in the 16th century. The hearts of the agave are roasted over hot stones in a put in the ground for three to five days while covered in earth, ground to a mash using horse-powered stone mills, and then naturally fermented in wooden vats. The spirit is then created using two slow distillations in wood-fired clay or copper pot stills. The result is unlike any spirit you have experienced before. Smoky, earthy, and stunningly complex, each bottle is a unique experience.
Crafted in the small village of San Luis Del Rio, “Vida” is Del Maguey’s way of providing high quality mezcal at a more affordable price. On the nose, Vida boasts bold aromas of fruit and honey backed by roasted agave and a hint of vanilla. Vibrant notes of ginger, cinnamon, banana, and tangerine on the palate soften on the long finish.
The baskets covering each bottle of Del Maguey “Vida” were hand woven by the women of Oaxaca. Each basket is a work of art and requires skill, dedication, and many hours to complete.
Laphroaig Islay Scotch, Laphroaig is produced from malted barley that has been smoked over a peat fire, lending rich aromas and flavors unique to Islay Scotch Whisky. Laphroaig is known as some of the most peat-influenced whisky from this region. Enjoy Laphroaig neat or with a few drops of water.
The Quarter cask is matured in small barrels and never chill filtered, Quarter Cask was created to emulate the style of the Laphroaig Whisky produced in the early 19th century. On the nose, this unique Scotch displays peat with a hint of coconut cream when water is added. The additional oak influence from the quarter casks has created a soft sweetness and velvety feel accompanying the intense peatyness so unique to this Islay distiller. The finish is very long and alternates between the wood sweetness, the classic phenolic “peat reek,” and a creamy yet zesty orange note. Its the kind of Scotch whiskey you can imagine my Scottish hero Sean Connery himself drinking, manly and puts a wee bit of hair on yer chest!
Next up…….the root of it all