Scorch and Soda
Frank Bruni falls for the cocktail world’s new trend: smoky drinks.
It began with an impulse to rhyme. The mixologist Eben Freeman had been watching chefs in New York City smoke a whole lot more than meat—potatoes, bananas, ice cream—and he wanted to infuse a cocktail with a woodsy zing. “I should smoke Coke!” he thought. He did precisely that, then added bourbon. And so, in 2007 at the short-lived restaurant Tailor in Manhattan, a libation named the Waylon was born—and, with it, a great trend.
New York City bars used to be places where smoke got in your eyes. Since Freeman, they’re where smoke gets in your drinks. At Craftbar, for example, bartenders smoke the Campari in the Negroni. In Yountville, California, the Smoky Margarita at Bottega pulls off a smoky trifecta: smoked tequila, smoked jalapeño and smoked salt on the rim. The Smoker’s Delight at PX in Alexandria, Virginia, takes things even further, using strained water that has been steeped with three kinds of tobacco.
The mixologist Jim Meehan of PDT in New York City, who is also deputy editor of F&W’s Cocktails guide, calls this an inevitable outgrowth of the barbecue craze—“Cocktails have always followed food, and I’m fine with that”—and a next step for restless bartenders who have exhausted their experimentation with bitters, and then flowers, and then herbs. A logical step, too: Smokiness already exists in mezcals and peaty Scotches. At Death & Co., in Manhattan’s East Village, Phil Ward uses mezcal in his Oaxacan Old-Fashioned to excellent smoky effect.
These smoky drinks do just what innovative cocktails should: They expand the vocabulary of flavor without speaking in tongues. Smoke might surprise you, but in measured doses, it makes sense. It brings the outdoors indoors. Reframes familiar ingredients. And gives them fresh heat.
New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni is author of the best seller Born Round.
In Brooklyn, a smoked simple syrup flavors an old-fashioned at The Brooklyn Star. thebrooklynstar.com.
The tequila-based Antigua drink at Oxford, Mississippi’s Snackbar uses agave syrup infused with chipotles (smoked jalapeños). citygroceryonline.com.
The Smoke on the Water cocktail at Jose Andres’s Bar Centro in Los Angeles literally smokes, thanks to a blast of liquid nitrogen; its smoky flavor comes from a spritz of Islay Scotch. thebazaar.com.
Fruit & Nuts
For its bourbon-laced Smoked Pear drink, Miami Beach’s Yardbird Southern Table & Bar adds smoked-pear puree and a smoked-almond rim. runchickenrun.com.
Bartender (and furniture maker) Todd Maul smokes ice over liqueur-soaked wood chips for the sidecar-like Frank-O drink at Clio in Boston. cliorestaurant.com.
At Father’s Office in Los Angeles, bartenders use both mezcal and tobacco-infused syrup to flavor the Oaxacan Fizz. fathersoffice.com.