Igniting magic with a cocktail smoker

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The cocktail smoker is the tool lighting up one of the latest drink trends: charred and smoked drinks. Get fired up about the infusion of smoke into beverages and bring the heat with your own smoldering flavor explosions. 

A glass of red wine with a sprig of rosemary.
Photo credit: Unsplash.

They’re not hard to spot at a craft cocktail bar: Drinks sporting charred garnishes, wisps of smoke and even flames emanating from the glass are a show of dazzling mixology theatrics. Smoked cocktails are one of the hottest trends to hit the drinks scene in recent years. 

While plumes of smoke emanating from a smoked drink are a spectacle to behold, it’s not the only captivating feature. The charred wood flavor left behind transforms ordinary drinks into extraordinary experiences. 

These trendy beverages are on fire, literally and figuratively, with restaurants and bars adding beaucoups of charred elements to their menus. And now it’s even easier than ever to replicate bartender creations at home with a cocktail smoker. 

A glass of smoking whiskey sitting on top of a book.
Photo credit: Unsplash.

What is a cocktail smoker?

Also called a butane torch, a cocktail smoker is a device used in bartending to burn, char and smoke ingredients, leaving drinks with smoky, spicy and woody flavors. The fire and smoke can be controlled, allowing the user to add as much depth and complexity to the taste profile as they like. 

Typically, cocktail smokers need a brief seal to hold the smoke in and infuse it with the liquid. The smoke is then released slowly, and the drink is ready to sip when the smoke wafts away.

These drinks usually contain whiskey, but you can use other spirits such as rum, mezcal and gin. The classy, smoked old-fashioned is one of the most popular smoky cocktails.

“I love smoking cocktails. I find the infusion of smoke flavor delightful, but it’s not for all cocktails. A kiss of smoke pairs better with stronger spirits, like whiskey. Cocktail smoking kits are the way to go, and you can experiment with your own wood. I’ve made cinnamon-smoked cocktails from shaved cinnamon sticks.”

— Chef Jenn Allen, Cook What You Love 
A person is toasting meringue on a cake with a torch.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Uses for cocktail smokers

The devices have other culinary uses beyond drinks. They can be used to brûlée desserts, toast marshmallows and flambée fruits, as well as in savory dishes to melt cheese, char steaks and toast nuts. 

These handheld, incendiary machines make an excellent cocktail gift for cocktail enthusiasts and home chefs alike. Anyone who loves the complex flavor and aroma of smoke would love one of these. 

Types of cocktail smokers

Cocktail smokers come in various forms. Some are better than others for home mixologists, while others fare best in a restaurant setting, where a lively presentation encourages more guests to order smoked drinks. Here are five of the most common cocktail smokers: 

Smoke lid: This simple method is the most common, the safest and the best for a home bartender. Also called a cocktail chimney, it features a wooden top with a basket for wood chips that’s placed over the drinking glass. Once the chips begin to burn with a blast from a butane torch or lighter, the bartender caps the device, trapping the smoke inside for a few seconds. 

Smoke gun: The smoke gun is a handheld device to infuse cocktails with smoky flavors. The gun typically consists of a chamber where wood chips or other smoking materials are ignited. Connected to the chamber is a flexible hose that directs the released smoke into a sealed container holding the cocktail, allowing for precise control over the infusion process. 

Smoke box: Usually made of wood, glass or acrylic, the smoke box is a lidded container that usually has room for two cocktails. The bartender will ignite smoking materials like wood chips inside the box and then close the lid over the cocktails for a few moments, allowing them to absorb the smoky flavor. When unsealed, smoke billows from the box — a showstopping presentation. 

A glass of whiskey next to a glass dome of smoke.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Dome: Similar to the smoke box, the smoke dome is a rounded glass container that fits over a cocktail. Once ignited, the wood chips are ignited beneath the dome, creating smoke that encapsulates the glassware. The smoke envelops the drink and imparts its distinctive flavor into the liquid below. 

Board: Smoke boards are another simple option for home bartenders. The mixologist first prepares the cocktail in a mixing glass or shaker and sets it aside. Next, they aim the flame at wood chips or smoking materials on a wooden board, usually made of oak, then place the cocktail glass upside-down over the embers to contain the flames and smoke. Once the smoke reaches the desired amount of contact with the glass, they’ll remove the glass and pour in the prepared cocktail. 

Types of wood 

Beyond smoking techniques, there are other ways to experiment with smoking drinks. You can also experiment with different wood types to enhance the overall drinking experience. Common  types of wood chips include: 

  • Pecan wood
  • Apple wood
  • Oak wood
  • Pear wood
  • Beech wood
  • Cherry wood

You can also experiment with smoking dried herbs and spices. Crushed cinnamon sticks and dried rosemary are excellent fire starters for cocktails. 

A glass of a drink with a slice of fig in it.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Ways to smoke cocktails

In addition to adding smoke to a glass, there are other ways to impart smoky flavors and aromas into a drink. Make your own smoking hot cocktails with one of these techniques: 

  • Smoked syrups: Infuse simple syrup the way you would a cocktail. You can also cook syrups with burnt ingredients for a unique twist, such as cinnamon syrup with smoked cinnamon sticks. 
  • Smoked spirits: Like syrups, you can smoke spirits ahead of time to use in multiple drinks. A smoky mezcal margarita takes the drink to a whole new level. 
  • Smoked garnishes: A great finishing touch is a smoking garnish, such as a toasted marshmallow or a flaming sprig of rosemary. 

In the world of cocktails, the captivating spectacle of smoking transforms ordinary drinks into extraordinary libations. Embrace this red-hot trend and discover the layers of flavor smoke brings to a drink.  

Whether you experiment with various wood types, try a cindered herb garnish or test out one of the many smoker tools, cocktail smoking takes your drinking experience to new heights — as high as the veils of smoky delight swirling above your glass.

Based in Charlotte, N.C., Susannah Brinkley Henry is the cocktail content creator behind the blog Feast + West. Her work has been featured in Southern Living, Oprah Daily, Buzzfeed, and more. In 2019, her website was a finalist in the Saveur Blog Awards for Best Entertaining Blog. As a professional graphic designer, photographer, writer, and recipe developer, Susannah helps home bartenders and drink enthusiasts level up their cocktail skills.  

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