Summer is here, and that means one thing: barbecues. And while smoked meats, juicy burgers and wood-fired vegetables are the seasonal staples we all know and love, the grilling techniques used to make them can work with cocktails, too. "In the summertime, you're already outside cooking," Matthew Domingo, culinary director of Traeger Grills, says. "Your smoker is hot and ready, making this the perfect time to incorporate grilled cocktails into your outdoor lifestyle."
Here are Domingo's tips for skipping the six-pack and giving grilled cocktails a go.
① Infuse Your Spirit
A week before your party, grill fruits or herbs and infuse them with your favorite liquor. "People infuse spirits all the time–with herbs, spices, fruits, even vegetables," Domingo says. "But very few people smoke or grill those ingredients prior to infusion. The difference is subtle, but if you try this, you will have an elevated and nuanced flavor your friends won't be able to place." Domingo loves glazing oranges with honey before caramelizing them on the grill; then, he infuses rye whiskey with the orange. The result? An elevated take on a classic Boulevardier, which also includes sweet vermouth, Campari and bourbon.
② Grill Your Fruit
When the grill's hot, throw on some fresh fruit. "If a cocktail has citrus juice or a fruit purée in the recipe, you can add a wood-fired component by smoking the ingredient," Domingo says. "You can take it a step further to concentrate and intensify the flavor by grilling and caramelizing it." Domingo likes to grill pineapple; he uses the juice in mai tais or Hotel Nacionals to create a subtle smokiness that amplifies each cocktail's citric notes.
③ Smoke Your Syrup
We just assume sweeteners are what they are, but it's easy to manipulate sugar on the grill. "Sweeteners like agave syrup, honey and demerara sugar can be smoked with herbs and spices like vanilla, star anise and rosemary," Domingo says. "This allows you to create interesting, spice-infused syrups to add an unexpected and delicate element of smokiness to a cocktail." To put a creative spin on an old-fashioned, Domingo suggests placing honey, sugar and vanilla beans into a shallow bowl or on a baking sheet, and then smoking the mixture over the grill. Then, add the whiskey and bitters, and garnish the cocktail with an orange peel.
④ Smoke Your Herbs and Spices
Whether you like to swirl a cinnamon stick in your favorite cocktail or prefer a sprig of rosemary on top, Domingo says, "Pro tip: Herbs and spices pick up smoke readily. Use them for garnishes or to infuse spirits or simple syrups, and separate yourself from the everyday cocktail Jane or Joe." Domingo smokes thyme in a perforated baking tray or on a cookie sheet; he uses the sprigs to top off his favorite summer cocktail of bourbon, ginger juice, agave and thyme-infused gin.
⑤ Char Your Garnish
A well-executed garnish can elevate a drink from good to great. Instead of using your garnish as is, give it a char for an aromatic effect. "Garnishes are crucial at craft cocktail bars, but at home, they're often overlooked," Domingo says. "Paying extra attention to your garnish can add an enticing visual element and sensory experience to your next drink." When making a Negroni, Domingo smokes rosemary and chars an orange peel, which he places on the rim of the cocktail.
Michaela Trimble is a nomadic travel writer and photographer previously based in New York. Follow her on the road on Instagram at @michaelatrimble
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