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Smoke Gets in Your Drink

Hot & Cool Food Trends

Trendy tipplers in certain watering holes across the U.S. can now order cocktails that not only have a smoky flavor, but also have actual smoke in the drink.

As reported in a story by Robert Simonson for The New York Times, smoked "rocks" (ice cubes) and other smoky ingredients can now be found in mixed drinks in bars and taverns from New York to Boston, from Portland, Ore., to Chicago to the West Coast.

At Craftbar in New York, mixologists are smoking the Campari in the house Negroni. In Chicago, the Smoked Sicilian Manhattan at the Bristol contains bourbon that gets a cherry-wood treatment. Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C., pumps cassia-bark fumes into a blend of mescal, maple syrup and maple bitters and calls the drink Where There’s Mezcal. The Bottega in Yountville, Calif., uses three sources of smoke: smoked tequila, smoked jalapeño simple syrup and oak-smoked salt on the rim.

Not to be outdone, Todd Thrasher, proprietor of the PX  bar in Alexandria, Va., creates something he calls the Smoker’s Delight. He takes up to four different kinds of tobacco, steeps them in hot water for five minutes, strains it, adds sugar and reduces the mixture. He mixes a few drops of this with bourbon, honey syrup and lemon juice. Thrasher says he came up with this drink for his business partner who had recently quit smoking.

While there are many ways to add smoke to cocktails, the most oft-used tool to create the effect is the smoke gun. Wood chips are stuffed into the device’s chamber, lighted, and the smoke makes its way through a tube to its target.

Rogue 24’s mixologist Derek Brown says the smoky flavor “has an emotional impact.” It makes you think of camping, he says. Others have talked about a “caveman reaction” and the evolution of the American palate. As one’s palate gets overloaded, a stronger flavor experience is needed.

Perhaps the appeal has something to do with the popularity of outdoor grilling in this country. Who doesn’t love the aroma of a steak or hamburger sizzling over the coals? Whatever the reasons behind it, we think this smoky new cocktail creativity is pretty cool, and we look forward to raising a glass with a toast: “Here’s smoke in your eye.”

Photo by Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times.

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