If you’re a fan of fancy restaurant cocktails that come out with a cloud of cool smoke, and you’re ready for your next at-home hobby, the time is now. Cocktail smoking at home is easier than ever, with one-stop apparatuses of varying price ranges widely available. If you’re not familiar with the concept of smoking cocktails but enjoy grilling and learning about home mixology, settle in, because this will be fun.
What is a cocktail smoker?
“It’s a technique that introduces smoky flavors to beverages by way of exposing either the whole cocktail, some of its components or simply the serving glass to cold smoke,” explains Sother Teague, beverage director at New York City’s Amor y Amargo. “Think of how your shirt smells after standing next to the grill at a barbecue. It wasn’t exposed to heat from the grill, but it took on the aromas of the smoke, and aroma is 90% of flavor.”
Erin Hayes, partner and VP of trade advocacy at Westward Whiskey Distillery, is also a fan of cold smoking, as the process is also called, because of how it “adds layers of flavor, aroma and texture to cocktails.”
How do you ‘smoke’ a cocktail at home?
Cold smoking a component or a whole cocktail at home is safe and easy and can be done with minimal expense or equipment, explains Teague, probably using things you already have at home — but you do have to have some ingenuity. You need a good lighter, a cookie sheet, a mixing bowl (“preferably glass, so you can view the action”) and some wood chips (which, if you don’t have any lying around, are easily sourced below).
- Prepare whatever you want to smoke (a chilled glass, an entire prepped cocktail, a garnish, etc.).
- Place wood chip shavings on cookie sheet.
- Light wood chips. (If you’re going to be using this rudimentary at-home method, you may want to invest in a good lighter or butane torch, Hayes says.)
- Quickly but carefully place item to be smoked next to burning wood chips.
- Place glass mixing bowl upside down over the top of the chips and the cocktail or item to be smoked.
- After one to two minutes of watching smoke permeate the cocktail, lift bowl, make sure wood chips are extinguished and serve cocktail immediately.
Hayes notes that in lieu of wood chip shavings, you can light a stick of cinnamon or a sprig of rosemary (anything with a woody base, really, she says) — both of which you probably have on hand and which smoke easily and impart a lovely aroma to whatever you’re smoking.
What about an all-in-one cocktail smoker device?
If the process above is a little too DIY, leveling up to an at-home apparatus is an easy next step that doesn’t have to be super costly. There are simple “smoking guns” that cost in the range of what a couple of smoked cocktails at a fancy bar might run you, and there are, of course, more advanced options.
Cocktail smokers run in the $25 to $200 range, but, Teague says, “functionally they’re all the same: a chamber much like a tobacco pipe where the wood shavings are housed, a fan that pulls air through the chamber and a small, flexible tube where the smoke emanates from.” Some smoking guns come with a glass dome, also known as a cloche, that attaches to the smoke tube via a spigot — this element isn’t necessary but does function as a good stage for the theater of cocktail smoking.
When determining what you want to spend, “think about what your usage is going to be,” recommends Hayes. “Is this something you will be using just for yourself or for entertaining large groups? Is this something you want to do every day or only for special occasions? If this is going to be a heavily used appliance it would be worth it to invest in one of the higher-end devices.”
As with many appliances, Teague says, “the more you spend, the more durable they are.” And if you come to love the smoky flavor of a cocktail, remember that your device can be used to add flavor to food as well. “Consider cold smoking spinach for a salad, and remember that cold smoke doesn’t cook the product, it only infuses flavor.”
Try these (smoked cocktails) at home
Cocktail smoking at home does require caution — children and pets should not be near when you’re using a smoking gun — but once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with more sophisticated concoctions.
Teague is intensifying the flavor with cold smoke in the Melón cocktail he’s developing for an upcoming venue. “We start by cutting cantaloupe into chunks about 1 inch by 1 inch by 1 inch and cold smoking with applewood,” he says. “We then juice the fruit and add maple syrup. The addition of a smoked pepper liqueur and rich añejo tequila really make it sing — think morning melon with crispy bacon.”
- 1/4 ounce smoked cantaloupe syrup
- 1/2 ounce ancho reyes
- 1 1/4 ounces Ocho Añejo tequila
- Tajín spice
- Cantaloupe chunk
- Shake the liquids with plenty of ice to chill, aerate and dilute. Double strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with cantaloupe chunk dipped in Tajín.
Cinnamon Smoked Boulevardier
Hayes loves a smoky cinnamon take on a whiskey standard, the boulevardier. “The cinnamon smoke is such a nice additional layer of aroma and flavor,” she says.
- 1 ounce Westward American single malt whiskey
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
- 1 orange twist
- Add the first three ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir for 20 seconds to chill and dilute. Strain into a double Old-Fashioned glass with a large cube of ice. Add cinnamon stick pieces to chamber of smoking gun. Place the cocktail and the smoking gun tube into a bell jar. Light the cinnamon and let the smoke fill the bell jar. Let sit for about 10 seconds. Remove the bell jar, express the orange twist over the boulevardier and enjoy.
Cocktail smoking essentials
Butane Torch Kitchen Blow Lighter ($14.79; amazon.com)
It’s also good for making crème brûlée and other desserts, while you’re at it.
Stonebriar 9-Inch Clear Glass Dome Cloche ($27.36, originally $39.99; amazon.com)
This could be a good starter cloche for an amateur smoker, and also works as a pretty display for plants or objects,
Homia Smoking Gun Wood Smoke Infuser ($67.11, originally $75.11; amazon.com)
With a smoking gun, various wood chips, a hose and more, this simple kit has everything you need to get started smoking your cocktails, and even your food too.
Mazonia Portable Infusion Smoker Gun ($24.95; amazon.com)
A most affordable option, but do note that you’ll have to purchase a glass dome separately if you want that, as well as wood chips and a lighting source.
Gramercy Kitchen Company Cocktail Smoker ($59.97; amazon.com)
Another midprice option, this one’s also highly portable and comes with wood chips, a handy cleaning brush and a black velvet storage bag to keep your smoking accessories together.
Vandue Corporation Wood Smoker ($59.91, originally $130; wayfair.com)
Also battery-operated, this one comes with a detachable glass dome to conveniently cover the item being smoked.
Breville The Smoking Gun Wood Smoke Infuser ($99.99; bestbuy.com)
“The most respected brand and my choice for extensive use, but there are many on the market to explore,” says Teague. Hayes also uses a Breville at home.
TheCraftyCocktail Dome Cocktail Smoking Kit ($109.99; etsy.com)
Made by hand, this is the ultimate gift for a cocktail lover who wants a fun new toy: It comes with an oak platform, a glass dome, the blowtorch, one pack of smoking chips and a cocktail glass.
The Gourmet’s Smoking Cloche ($200; uncommongoods.com)
Gourmet indeed. This one’s pricier, but it’s a statement piece. It comes with a walnut stand, the smoking gun and a glass cloche that could live alone as a kitchen stunner.