When Is Smoking Whiskey Cocktails Worth The Effort?

If you've ever been served a smoking old fashioned at a fancy bar, you'll know there's a wonderful theatrical aspect to the presentation. Smoking whiskey can transform consuming a cocktail into a multi-sensory experience, adding deep and complex flavors to your drink. However, if you're considering recreating this magic at home, you might wonder if it requires a significant amount of time, effort, and money just to serve one or two boozy beverages. And the answer is, it can; whether (and even if) it's worth it depends on various factors.

The complexity and cost of smoking cocktails at home begins with the type of equipment you choose. Regardless of your approach, you'll need to invest in specialized tools, ranging from a simple wood plank and a torch to a more expensive professional smoking gun used by bartenders. If you're a regular whiskey drinker who enjoys it smoked, are seeking new ways to mix an old fashioned, or want to impress guests at cocktail parties, investing and experimenting might be worthwhile. Occasional drinkers might find it more advantageous to enjoy smoked cocktails at a bar, particularly since the tools employed can significantly impact the drama of the smoking effect and the final taste of the drink.

Different ways to smoke a whiskey cocktail

The most cost-effective method to smoke a cocktail at home involves torching a plank of wood, available at hardware stores, with a butane or brulee torch. Torch the wood until it flames, then invert the glass over it to capture the smoke before pouring in your cocktail. Alternatively, you could opt for a professional cocktail smoking kit, like a smoke box, or a smoke gun with a dome lid, though these are pricier.

If you opt for a kit rather than a flaming plank, you can smoke the glass before or after pouring the drink. Smoking the glass beforehand allows smoke to adhere to its surface and mix with the drink, resulting in a milder flavor, but most of the smoke dissipates by the time the drink is poured, reducing visual impact. Smoking the finished cocktail is visually impressive, especially for guests; consider covering it with a coaster to trap more smoke. For added flavor, try making smoked ice cubes.

It's crucial to use cold smoke for drinks to avoid heating the cocktail. Remember, alcohol and fire can be a hazardous combination, so take necessary precautions, like smoking outdoors or securing long hair.

Switch up woods for different flavors when smoking whiskey

The charred barrels that age whiskey contribute to its signature color as well as its flavor. These barrels are frequently made from white oak, making oak an effective — and somewhat obvious — choice for smoking whiskey to enhance its characteristics. However, experimenting with various types of wood can introduce unique aromas and flavors.

Consider matching the wood to your whiskey's specific flavor profile; use pecan for nutty notes, applewood for sweetness, or robust hickory for a punchy bourbon. If using a kit, vary the wood chips based on the cocktail; cedar pairs well with a Manhattan, cherry wood adds fruitiness, and hickory, oak, or mesquite lend a smoky old fashioned incredible depth.

Beyond plain wood, aromatic woody herbs or additional ingredients can infuse drinks with intriguing flavors. Pair rosemary, sage, or lavender with whiskey cocktails, match thyme with peaty Scotch, cinnamon with sweet bourbon, or citrus peels with Japanese whiskey. When you aim to elevate whiskey cocktails, smoking is a worthwhile endeavor.