Libations: Smoked martini
Craft cocktails are all the rage these days and there isn’t a barbecue lover or bartender who I know who hasn’t pondered how to mash up barbecue and cocktails.
Some people grill fruit to garnish their cocktails, others use liquid smoke or a fancy “smoking gun” that emits a puff of smoke, but those seem a little forced to me. I decided to look in my liquor cabinet and see if there was anything more organic that would make a smoky cocktail.
My brother-in-law is a big fan of single-malt scotch and recommended I start my scotch education with Laphroaig 10-year. That happened to be around the time that I participated in a scotch tasting taught by the Scotch whisky expert and Scotland native, Simon Brooking.
Laphroaig is made on the Ile of Islay from malted barley. The barley is soaked in water from a nearby stream and dried with the heat of a peat fire. The peat grows on Islay and is hand cut and dried for three months before it is used as fuel to dry out the wet barley. The smoke from the peat is what gives the barley and the resulting Scotch whisky its distinctive smoky, peaty flavor. Learning this was a revelation. Using a single-malt scotch could be the secret to a smoky cocktail. But what to pair it with?
The cocktail needed a neutral spirit to pair with the smoke note. I envisioned an icy vodka martini (you know the kind that I am talking about — it’s so cold that ice crystals of vodka float on the top) and it’s garnished with a salty, briny olive that you can bite into between sips. What if I took the base of a clean, crisp, cold vodka martini and added a kiss of smoke?
I had the ingredients, how was I going to make the cocktail? I tried adding a touch of scotch to the vodka in the shaker, but it tasted like watery scotch — not what I was looking for. I tried a few more methods — after all, it was only vodka and scotch so there weren’t a lot of configurations. But none of them delivered. I asked a few friends and amateur bartenders what they would do, but none of their ideas panned out. Not wanting to give up, I posed the question to a veteran bartender, and he gave me my answer in a nano second: Pour the scotch into an atomizer and spray the top of the ice-cold vodka martini after it was poured.
That was a game changer. I purchased a stainless-steel atomizer and filled it with single-malt scotch. I chose a very smooth, clean vodka and shook it in a cocktail shaker with a lot of ice. The frosty liquid shimmered in the martini glass and just before serving it, I sprayed it with a whiff of my smoky scotch. The atomizer makes all the difference as it distributes the scotch on the top of the martini and fills the nose with just the right amount of smoky notes. And since smell plays an equal (if not greater) role in helping us determine flavors, it’s a powerful way to make a smoky cocktail.