3 Ways to Stir in Some Smoky Flavors

Aug. 13, 2018


Smoky flavors are heating up in the food and beverage industry.

According to market and menu research firm Datassential, the appearance of smoky cocktails on menus grew 27% in 2017. This trend isn’t just limited to drinks, either. Since 2006, the term “smoke” has grown across all menu types – food, dessert and drinks – more than 335%. 

Take a look at your drink menu, be it seasonal or year-round. How many smoky cocktails do you have listed? If you’re coming up a bit light, now is the time to add a few smoke-infused drinks to your beverage program. 

Not sure where to start? Here are three easy ways to stir some smoky flavor into your drinks. 


Smoky Spirits

Easily one of the simplest ways to add smoky flavors to your cocktails is to use an already smoky spirit. 

Peated Scotch Whisky: For many bartenders, a peat-heavy Islay Scotch whisky will be the first spirit the comes to mind when thinking in terms of smoky flavors. Peated whiskies get their smoky, savory qualities from the use of malted barley that has been dried out in an oven fueled by burning slabs of earthen peat.

Mezcal: The smokiness of mezcal can vary from brand-to-brand, or sometimes even from bottle-to-bottle, but even the lightest mezcal still has some funky, smoky flavors to it. 

Similar to Scotch whisky, mezcal gets its smoky character during the production process. In order to break down the large agave piñas and caramelize their sugars, mezcal producers cook – or more accurately, roast – the agave hearts in large stone-lined pits dug deep into the ground. When the rocks are red-hot, the piñas are placed in the pit and then covered with agave leaves and fiber, straw mats, and then piled up with earth and left to roast. This cooking process is what gives the finished mezcal its layered smoky character.

Smoke Infused Spirits: Over the past five years, collections of smoke-infused rums, whiskies and tequilas have been launched into the U.S. market. Unlike Scotch and mezcal, these new spirits get their smoky flavors from additional ingredients such as liquid smoke or smoked herbs and spices, both of which are usually added to the spirit towards the end of production, just before bottling. Often these spirits have additional flavors as well, making them a joy to experiment behind the bar.


Smoky Ingredients

Another way to add smoky flavors to a cocktail is by using smoked, burnt or charred garnishes or modifiers in your drink. Herbs and spices like sage, rosemary and cinnamon stick can be lightly burnt or grilled and then used as a garnish to add rich and smoky aromas to the glass. Pieces of barrel-staves or wood chips can also be chard and then either placed under or over the glass to add a campfire quality to the finished drink. 

In addition to the garnishes, smoking and grilling fruits for that can be turned into syrups or roasting spices and transforming them into house-made bitters, are just a few other ways to add layers of smoke into your cocktails. 


The Smoking Gun

Finally, if you’re willing to spend the money on it and learn how to use it properly, a smoke gun is the easiest way to add smoke to just about any cocktail, no matter the ingredients you’re working with. 

One nice advantage of the smoking gun is that bartenders can get pretty creative and experiment with different wood chips, each type giving off its own unique smoky flavor. For example, you could use apple wood in the fall and give your customers an experience that takes them back to bonfires by the apple orchard. Or, use hickory chips in the summer, to call back memories of outdoor barbeques. 

A smoking gun also allows you to control the exact amount of smokiness that is imbued into the drink, without having to adjust the amount ratios of any other ingredients or dilution. Just remember that as with all strong flavors, a little goes a long way, so start off light and then build up to stronger flavors.

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