Smoked Ice Cubes Are What Your Cocktails Have Been Missing

For thousands of years, smoke has been used in cooking as a means of preparing or preserving meat and fish, and is beloved by many for the unmatched flavor it provides — the very essence of a smoldering fire cooked right into your meal. However, it wasn't until the early 2000s that smoke became a somewhat popular flavor in the world of cocktails.

At one time, you could only taste smoke in your drink by drinking mezcal, whiskey, or another inherently smoky spirit. Around 2007, creative mixologists like Eben Freeman at Tailor in Manhattan began experimenting with smoked cocktail ingredients. Freeman, for instance, created a Coca-Cola syrup with smoked cherry and alder wood for use in Tailor's Jack and Coke. Today, smoke is an increasingly popular element in modern cocktails, whether they're mixed at an upscale bar or at home by DIY drink enthusiasts. 

Whether you use wood chips to smoke your ingredients or char your garnishes with a kitchen torch, there's no shortage of ways to impart a rich campfire flavor to your drinks. One smoky ingredient you may have never heard of is smoked ice cubes, which sound like an oxymoron — wouldn't the ice melt? While you may doubt the effectiveness (or even the existence) of smoked ice cubes, these unique flavor bombs are actually easy to prepare. They make for inexpensive yet impressive drink additions that slowly release smoky flavors as they melt.

How to make smoked ice cubes

So how do you smoke ice? While you may imagine a bartender waving an ice cube through ribbons of smoke, the process actually involves infusing the water used to make the ice. If you've ever used citrus or another aromatic to impart flavor into water, it's roughly the same idea. 

First, choose the wood you'd like to smoke with. Different types of wood add different intensity, flavor, and other characteristics to your drink. Oak plays well with a wide variety of flavors, making it a great starter option that allows you to try smoked ice cubes in all your favorite drinks. But if there's one specific cocktail you want to add smoke to, consider the unique qualities of cherry, mesquite, hickory, or pecan. For instance, cherry wood can add extra fruitiness to a sweet and aromatic Manhattan. Make sure your wood is untreated and food-grade, as well. 

Next, grab a pot of water and use a grill or smoker to safely expose it to the burning, smoking wood for several hours. An enclosed space is what you need. Once those hours are up, allow the water to cool, then strain out any solid particles that may have made their way in during the smoking process. Pour the smoked water into your chosen ice cube mold and pop it in the freezer. Once frozen, they're ready to flavor and chill the drink of your choice.

When to use smoked ice

There's no shortage of beverages that could benefit from some smoked ice. From classic cocktails to creative mocktails, this is a treat anyone can enjoy. Add the ice cubes to a simple Jack and Coke, much like the aforementioned drink from Tailor's, or pour Earl Grey iced tea brewed with lemon and ginger over a few cubes for a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage with a hint of smoky, woodsy richness. 

Other popular drinks that mesh beautifully with smoky elements include Old Fashioneds, whiskey sours, and any cozy, seasonal cocktail you can imagine enjoying around a bonfire. Consider trying smoked ice cubes in a whiskey and apple juice cocktail, a Manhattan garnished with a strip of smoky bacon, or a classic Boulevardier, which is much like a Negroni, but made with whiskey instead of gin — the perfect warming liquor to go with some smoke. The versatility of the ice cubes, which adds smoke without imparting any other flavors, means the world is your oyster here. Dream big and experiment to find out which recipes you most enjoy with these low-effort, high-impact cocktail enhancers.