How To Smoke Cocktails, Step By Step

NYC bartender Angela Laino shows us how to smoke a cocktail

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This time of year, when cocktail hour rolls around, we're reaching for all things bitter, smoky and stirred. And while Scotch and mescal cocktails make for excellent winter warmers, bartenders around the country are creating a new smoky cocktail game that is (quite literally) on fire.

Angela Laino of NYC's The Wayland and Goodnight Sonny has been mixing up a storm of next-level smoked cocktails. At both of her bars, you can order smoky drinks such as the I Hear Banjos, Encore, made with apple-pie moonshine and presented with a stunning globe of smoke on top. Sipping on one of these is like being transported to a campfire— a campfire that's inside a cozy NYC cocktail bar where you can order food until 4 a.m.

Laino's inspiration for her cocktails comes primarily from her vegetarian diet: Fresh juices and herbs translate well to mixology, as cocktails typically don't involve animal fats. Instead of drawing from a love of smoked meats, she originally began smoking cocktails by burning sage on a plate and allowing the herb to subtly flavor a rocks glass. Now she makes her intensely flavored cocktails by adding a spirit to a blender and filling it with hickory smoke. This way she can control the flavors more easily and bring out the woodiness or bitter flavors of certain spirits, such as reposado tequila.

Elsewhere, bartenders are finding other ways to use smoke in their drinks. American Cut in Tribeca serves a plank-smoked old-fashioned, in which a maple plank is set ablaze and then a glass is placed on top of the residual smoke to flavor it. In L.A., Gracias Madre serves several smoked cocktails, including the tongue-in-cheek Up in Smoke, which is smoked inside of a bong instead of a blender.

You can experiment with your own smoked cocktails with the purchase of a smoking gun. Try smoking whiskey for old-fashioneds, tomato juice for Bloody Marys, cherries for a smoky garnish or even water to make smoked ice. You can also extend your investment by branching out into your kitchen and smoking butter, meat for chili or melted chocolate for campfire candies. The smoky possibilities are endless.

Check out the slideshow to see a step-by-step of how Laino does it.

Laino at Goodnight Sonny with her smoking gun.

Laino packs the smoking gun with a mix of herbs and hickory chips, and lights it on fire to produce a stream of smoke. She recommends a heavy smoking wood chip, like hickory or cherry bark, combined with dried herbs, such as rosemary, sage or herbal teas. The stronger woods will impart most of the flavor, while the herbs will add a subtle depth.

She smokes a bottle of reposado tequila in a blender on a low setting for two to five minutes. You can use any blender as long as it has a lid with an opening. A whole bottle of smoked spirit will keep on the shelf for up to a week before it starts to lose some of its smoky flavor, at which point you can always smoke it again.

Laino is using the smoked tequila to create her namesake cocktail, Angela's Arch. To make it, stir together 1¼ ounces of the smoked reposado tequila (Angela recommends Don Julio reposado); ½ ounce of red wine reduction; ⅓ ounce of Italian aperitif, such as Aperol; and 2 dashes of orange bitters. Strain over ice and top with an orange rind and a snifter of smoke.

The bar at Goodnight Sonny.

You can easily make a red wine reduction by heating 1 part sugar to 4 parts Malbec in a saucepan until the liquid reduces to about 25 percent of its volume.

As with most cocktails that mainly feature alcohol as ingredients (rather than syrups or fruit), stirring is essential to let the strong flavors shine.

A fine strainer makes sure there aren't any ingredient particles or ice chips in the finished drink.

Laino fills a glass globe with smoke to add to the top of the drink. She says that this extra step doesn't necessarily increase the smoky taste but rather creates a sensory experience by recreating the smell of a campfire. At home, a snifter works just as well for this final step.

The smoke remains in the globe until it's ready to be sipped. If you can't actually cozy up next to a campfire, trust us, this is the next best thing.