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Cheers! Making a smoky cocktail with what's in your kitchen

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
There's more than one way to add smoke to a drink, but this is a good one.

“So, how do you feel about setting things on fire,” she asked me.

How do you answer that question?

After six years of Cheers to Michigan episodes on Michigan Radio with Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings, you would think I would be used to being stumped by questions from her. Nope. All I could say is, “Well, it depends.”

Brilliant, Lester.

“I’m researching cocktails for an upcoming class,” she said as she explained it’s all about smoked cocktails and other ways to get smoky flavors into drinks.

At bars, I've seen different techniques used. A mixologist might simply burn a bit of rosemary or other fresh herb and use it as a garnish atop the drink. I’ve also seen them use a smoking gun. Wood chips or other kinds of material can be “shot” into a tin shaker with the drink, or captured in a decanter and then add the drink, or just put the finished cocktail under glass and shoot smoke in to surround it.

“I had a smoking gun, but because of COVID, I left it sitting in the basement for two years with the batteries in it and now I don’t have a smoking gun anymore,” Tammy said.

That’s kind of a good thing because, really, how many of us have smoking guns at home?

“I’ve been telling people, you don’t have to have fancy equipment to smoke cocktails at home, so we’re going to put that to the test,” she said.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Some of the ingredients of the Smoked Apple Manhattans, plus the kitchen torch.

Using Griffin Claw’s Rail District 100% Rye Whiskey and a Kentucky apple brandy called Copper and Kings Floodwall (it uses Michigan apples), she stirred up a variation on a Manhattan. She also made some burnt sugar simple syrup ahead of time. She added a bit of sweet vermouth to the drink. Since there’s no orange peel garnish, she added orange bitters in addition to the traditional Angostura bitters. (See complete recipes below).

Tammy set the glass with the drink on a cookie sheet and set a big glass bowl over it. She then crumbled a bit of cinnamon stick, lifted the bowl and set the pile next to the drink. She lit the pile with a kitchen torch. After generating enough smoke, she lowered the raised edge of the bowl to capture the smoke.

“I’m trying to corral the smoke into the bowl,” she said. Then it’s just a matter of letting it sit for a minute just to pick up the cinnamon smoke aroma.

The smoke acts as something as a garnish. With this method, it doesn’t really change the taste of the liquid in the glass, but the smoke entertains your nose and definitely impacts your impression of the drink.

It was a success. All it needed was a name.

“I hate descriptive names, but I can’t think of anything more clever than Smoked Apple Manhattan,” Tammy said.

Well, cheers to that!

Smoked Apple Manhattan

1 oz rye whiskey

1 oz apple brandy

1 oz sweet vermouth

1 tsp burnt sugar syrup (see below)

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Stir well. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass and smoke with cinnamon in a smoking dome setup OR strain into cinnamon-smoked glass.

Burnt Sugar Syrup

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Burning cinnamon sticks, burning sugar. This drink is all about fire.

1/2 cup sugar

6 tbsp hot water

Add sugar to a wide saucepan or medium skillet. Heat over medium high heat. Sugar will begin to melt and bubble. Stir in any dry sugar on top, and stir as needed until sugar is melted. Once sugar is completely melted, continue to cook until it is dark brown and just begins to smoke. Remove from heat and add hot water. Be careful as mixture will boil angrily and release steam. Return saucepan to medium low heat and stir until any seized caramel has dissolved back into a liquid. Let cool before using.

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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