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Friday, January 21, 2022

Smoky cocktails without a single coal

Rebecca Peppler, New York Times

Smoking in crowded bars can mostly (and thankfully) be a relic of the past, but the cocktail glass itself hasn’t lost all of its smoke – often just the ingredients. Many fall into one of two smoke camps: you like it – stick in scotch tape or mezcal – or not.

But the characteristics of smoke in beverages do not have to be conspicuous to be effective; rather, they can be subtle and nuanced. Fill your bar with a few basic bottles of smoky spirits and you’ll have access to drinks that range from refreshing and vibrant to earthy, herbal and botanical.

Start with mescal, an alcohol derived from agave. As with wine, a small amount of mescal provides a direct link to its terroir. “It almost tastes like you’re on the street; you can taste the soil, ”said Yola Jimenez, founder of Yola Mezcal. “This is my favorite part: it really tastes like earth.”

The layered flavors, including the smokiness, in each mescal bottle vary by region, variety and manufacturer, and their complexity is the result of methods used over hundreds of years. The intrinsic smoke aroma is formed by roasting the hearts of the agave, or piña, before chopping and fermenting them. The sweet, fiery smell that permeates the air during cooking also permeates the final distillate, capturing the herbal essence of the plant.

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