Bartender Starts Fires in the Name of Cocktails
What's manlier than bourbon? Fire.
Traditionally, a steakhouse cocktail is strong and manly—something like a dry gin martini or Scotch and soda. The signature Smoked Old Fashioned at Marc Forgione’s palatial American Cut in New York is a perfect example. It's infused with smoke creating by torching a maple plank table side.
The drink earned American Cut bar manager Nick Nistico his job. “I was making it at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival and chef Marc Forgione tried it,” says Nistico. Forgione loved the drink and immediately connected with the technique. His father, legendary American chef Larry Forgione, first popularized plank-smoked salmon.
To make the cocktail, Nistico sets the wood on fire with a high-powered torch. He extinguishes the flame with a glass and leaves it there to fill with smoke. Meanwhile, he makes the Old Fashioned with Woodford Reserve bourbon, housemade bitters and simple syrup. He flips the glass, adds one giant ice cube and pours in the liquids. Traditionally, Old Fashioneds are garnished with an orange twist but Nistico skips that flourish. “You want the smoke to jump out at you,” he says. “You don’t want it to hide behind any citrus.”
One maple wood plank lasts through 200 cocktails, each of which will taste different. “When the plank is fresh and new you get a younger smoke flavor,” Nisctico says. “Whereas when they begin to char down it’s a heavier charred flavor. We adjust the amount of simple syrup that we put into the cocktail as we go. As it gets the heavier char, we add a little more simple syrup, but when it starts off nice and young we keep it a little bit more whiskey forward.”
This cocktail isn't for every home bartender. “But if you’re capable of making a crème brûlée, then by all means, go for it,” he says. For a variation on the cocktail, Nistico trying different woods with different spirits. He likes floral alder wood with a cognac Old Fashioned and fruity cherry wood one made with rum. Watch Nistico make his Smoked Old-Fashioned step-by-step.