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.
Each type of agave used to make mezcal also has its own distinct flavor. As for Yola Mescal, Jimenez follows one of his grandfather’s recipes, combining organic espadin (a cultivated agave variety that has matured in about seven years) and a lower percentage of madrequixe, a wild, distinctly tall and cylindrical agave – “because we felt it had the right balance of sweetness, smokiness and complexity, ”she said.
Before mixing the drink, pour in some mescal yourself. “For me, the smoke disappears pretty quickly after the first sip,” Jimenez said.
Continue drinking as is, or mix the next few ounces into a smoothie. Combine alcohol with sweet hibiscus syrup and dramatic allspice sauce to create mezcal fresco – a tart, smoky and spicy drink.
Or soften the smoky notes of scotch with white vermouth and amaro at Bitterscotch. Choose a lighter and sweeter amaro, or if your smoke tolerance is higher, double Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, a smoky alpine amaro made in northern Italy. And if you’re on a tight schedule, mix equal parts Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro and sweet vermouth with ice and start drinking.
Whichever bottle you choose, smoky cocktails fall into the sweet spot between tuxedo and cigar and are suitable for a wide variety of flavors – no long haze required.
Harvest: 1 drink
For hibiscus syrup:
- 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers, also called flor de jamaica
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon smoked scale salt
For a cocktail:
- 1 1/2 ounce mescal
- 1/2 ounce hibiscus syrup
- 1/2 ounce allspice drama
- 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
- 1/4 oz fresh lime juice
- Sparkling water, for decoration
1. Prepare the hibiscus syrup: In a saucepan, combine the hibiscus flowers and 1 cup water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add sugar and salt, stir until dissolved, then turn off heat and let cool completely. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing down on the solids to extract all the syrup. (You should have about 1 1/4 cups of syrup.) Keep refrigerated, tightly closed in an airtight container, for up to 3 weeks.
2. Make a cocktail: In an ice shaker, combine mezcal, hibiscus syrup, allspice drama, grapefruit juice and lime juice. Cover and shake until cool. Fill a glass with ice. Strain the cocktail into a glass and cover with soda water.
Harvest: 1 drink
- 1 1/2 ounce scotch tape
- 1 ounce blanc vermouth
- 3/4 oz amaro
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- Lemon zest, for serving
In a shaker, combine Scotch, blanc vermouth, amaro and lemon juice. Add ice, cover and shake vigorously until the drink has cooled, about 15 seconds. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass. While holding the long edges of the lemon peel down into a glass, pinch the zest to loosen the citrus oil. Add it to a glass and serve.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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