The Easiest Way to Make Smoked Cocktails at Home, According to Bartenders

It's the best way to advance your mixology skills.

Machine smoking cocktail
Photo: Courtesy of Crafthouse by Fortessa

Now that you've mastered making cosmos and martinis at home, it's time to take your mixology skills to the next level: learning how to smoke a cocktail. Not only does this truly elevate a drink, but smoke can also maximize flavor and bring out subtle tones that would otherwise be missed on the palate—and it allows other senses to have a bit of fun, too. The unveiling of a smoked cocktail is a stunning visual; the aromas dance across one's nose in a way that is almost magical, and a dryer feeling on the palate rounds out the experience.

Learn what spirits are best suited to smoking, other ingredients you can smoke for cocktails, and what equipment you need with expert insights from bartenders and other mixologists.

What You Need

Mike Goncalves, a mixologist and brand ambassador for the Greek mastiha Axia, says that smoking cocktails at home doesn't require purchasing a specialty smoking instrument. There are options for at-home smoking using what you might already have on hand.

Jorge Centeno, chief spirits officer at the Deer Path Inn in Chicago, agrees. He says grabbing a fire-safe surface (tray, plate, or a board), a torch, and wood chips is the perfect way to experiment without purchasing anything new. (See below for his no-equipment method.)

Another option is to start experimenting with a basic smoker, which is nothing more than a wood base and a cover, and is typically inexpensive, says Goncalves.

Kitchen Torch

One tool not to skimp on is a good kitchen torch. Lee Noble, mixologist at Art in the Age in Philadelphia, says that it is the most helpful tool for the smoking process. "A brulée torch makes the process faster since it's a more intense flame to light wood chips, and you can use it to char herbs and citrus peels as well with the same goal in mind," he says.

Smoking Cloche or Smoking Box

If smoking cocktails becomes your new favorite hobby, you may want to invest in a smoking cloche, like this one from Crafthouse by Fortessa.

"A smoking cloche will have a glass dome that encases the drink with smoke pumped in from a small gun device," says Nicole Kerr, lead bartender at Drawbar Bellyard in Atlanta. "A smoking box is a glass box that has a door to open and present the drink. Cloches are more attractive and allow for a more elaborate presentation."

Wood Chips or Other Smoking Medium

According to Noble, a gentle pecan or apple wood smoke flavor, which adds a simple layer of depth to the drink, is the best place to start. But as you progress, thinking of the flavors of a smoked cocktail in relation to grilling will allow for more playful and purposeful mixing. "Mesquite and hickory tend to be heavy smoke flavors and can be acrid if used too heavily, while other woods like cherry, apple, peach, and pecan each add their own signature smoke," says Noble.

Paying attention to the wood chips used is critical to the results, both on the nose and on the palate, says Kerr. While she is partial to oak and applewood, hickory is her choice if looking for an extra smoky sip.

Wood isn't your only option for smoking a cocktail. "Dried spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, certain teas, or even coffee beans can be used to smoke a cocktail in place of wood, and can add complementary flavors," says Harrison Snow, co-owner and beverage director at Lullaby in New York.

Choosing Spirits for Smoking

While most spirits can be smoked, some work better than others. Clear spirits, like vodka and gin, have a delicate profile that may be easily overpowered by the smoke. Sotol, a Mexican spirit made from a desert plant called dasylirion, and mastiha are clear spirits that can handle the heat.

Beginner Spirits

For a novice, using spirits that do most of the work already is the best bet. Noble says bourbon and rum work best as the base for a smoked cocktail. "Imparting smoke flavor to cocktails is easier with sweeter barrel-aged spirits, like bourbon and aged rum, since they already have charred flavors to complement the smoke, and their natural sweetness helps balance it," he says.

Snow says these spirits work well in smoked cocktails because of their aging process. Aged rum, whiskey, and some aged tequilas are aged in wood barrels and the smokiness imparted by that process enhances the inherent woodiness already in those spirits.

Advanced Spirits

"Smoked liqueurs such as amaretto and Grand Marnier are delicious and fun to experiment with," says Kerr. "Try smoking a Godfather (with whiskey and amaretto)—it balances the sweetness perfectly."

Snow says that a Scotch or mezcal lover doesn't need to be left out of the smoking trend. While both of these spirits do have a built-in smokiness, offsetting that with a more delicate wood or even spices can impart a flavor that is more unique and nuanced.

Smoking Other Ingredients

It's not always just about the spirit. Mixers, like juices, syrups, and other tinctures, are also important in a well-balanced cocktail. One tip for developing a smoked cocktail? Think about grilling and summertime flavors for a little inspiration.

"Think of any fruit you would personally enjoy if it were charred on a grill and you would more than likely enjoy it smoked in a cocktail," says Snow. "You could get the fresh pressed juice of either kind at the supermarket and use it in a cocktail with a smoked glass, or go all out and char the fruit on the grill and then juice it and use the smoke-infused juice."

Smoking Your First Cocktail

With a spirit base and equipment set, it's time to get smoking. "Always wet your glass so the smoke sticks to the walls of the glass, giving you a better flavor," says Centeno.

How to Smoke a Glass

Centeno shares this simple method for smoking a glass, which just might be the easiest route to a smoked cocktail. You'll need: a cocktail glass, wood chips, kitchen torch, and a fire-safe surface (such as a tray, plate, or board).

  1. Prepare your cocktail in a shaker or mixing glass.
  2. Wet your cocktail glass.
  3. Light the wood chips on a heat-safe board, and place the empty cocktail glass upside-down over the chips to absorb the flavor.
  4. Pour the cocktail into the smoked glass—it's ready to drink.

Experiment and Have Fun

Once you get the hang of the process and begin to form favorite flavor profiles, you can experiment. There are no rules to smoking cocktails and the only limitation of what can be created is your imagination, Kerr says. The real point of smoking a cocktail is to let loose and experiment with different spirits and flavors—in other words, just have some fun.

"Start out with something easy, like an old fashioned using maple or oak wood chips," says Wyn Vida, beverage director at Toshokan and The Cathedral in Austin. "The last cocktail I smoked was a riff on a Negroni using Dulce Vida Extra Añejo Tequila, and it was amazing."

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