Where to Try Smoked Cocktails in Chicago
Chefs smoke meats to bring out a rich flavor, so why can’t bartenders apply the same philosophy to making cocktails? Bartenders around town are hijacking their kitchen’s smokers to smoke spirits and other ingredients to add notes of fire and ash to their drinks.
One of the first smoked cocktail to pop up on our radar was at Bottlefork, where a “Smoke of the Day” program involves combining meat drippings salvaged from the smoker with booze. The process starts by heating and liquefying drippings from the smoker, which are made up of fat, spices and bits of meat. This liquid is combined with bartender Brandon Phillip’s spirit of choice and frozen until the fat separates, leaving behind a meaty flavor without the grease. It's then used as a base spirit for a daily rotating cocktail.
Down the street, an equally innovative bartender is taking cues from the kitchen when creating cocktails. At SideDoor, one of the mainstays is the house-smoked prime rib and pastrami sandwich. Beverage director Jeff Van Der Tuuk uses that same meat smoker to smoke trays of water, which are then frozen into ice cubes to be used for his smoked Negroni (the drink itself is made with FEW barrel-aged gin, Aperol and Punt e Mes).
The next obvious option for adding smoke to a cocktail is to smoke the spirit itself. Both Carriage House and The Bristol rely on smoked bourbon to add a unique flavor to classic cocktails. At Carriage House the Boulevardier is updated with house-smoked bourbon, Campari and sweet Vermouth, while at The Bristol house-smoked bourbon is used for its Smoked Sicilian Manhattan, made with Averna and Regan's Orange No. 6 bitters. Smoking bourbon is a relatively simple task for anyone who has a countertop smoker. The booze is poured into a sheet pan to allow for the maximum surface area to touch the smoke, and then it sits in the smoker for 20 to 30 minutes. The process merely alters the flavor of the liquid, not the booze content nor the structure.
Last, but certainly not least, is smoking other ingredients before adding them to the cocktails. Everything from honey to tea benefits from a little heat. At The Florentine, beverage director Chad Pozmantir dilutes equal parts honey with water. Whole cloves are added to both the honey and to the oak chips used to smoked the mixture. The result is a fragrant honey that's combined with Bulleit rye, blood orange bitters and cranberry juice to create the Smoky Mt. Rye. At Fulton Market Kitchen, smoked tea is the main flavor component of Literal Analogies, a bourbon cocktail that also uses honey, Averna, citrus and Hellfire bitters. These four techniques bring out the same result; a lingering flavor of fire that adds new notes to the old cocktail.