by Jim Passantino May 20, 2022 4 min read
Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire, but in this case, we’re tapping into the bounties of Mother Nature to infuse drinks with a complex and nuanced smoky aroma and flavor.
Smoked cocktails are by no means new, but we’ve seen an increase in their popularity in recent years, leaving many individuals curious about how to smoke cocktails, the benefits of smoking cocktails, and most importantly, what the best wood chips for smoking cocktails are.
Easy to create at home, smoked cocktails are a fun way to impress guests or treat yourself to a nice after-work drink come time to relax. With a few simple steps, the right wood chips, and a couple pieces of equipment, you’ll be set to explore what others have been enjoying for decades.
The best woods for smoked cocktails are generally those that impart a flavor profile complementary to the spirit and other ingredients in the drink. Fruitwoods like apple and cherry offer a subtle sweetness that works well with lighter spirits like gin or vodka.
Mesquite and hickory provide a strong, robust smokiness more suitable for dark spirits like bourbon or Scotch. Oak is a versatile choice that lends a complex, medium-bodied smokiness to a variety of cocktails. Additionally, woods like pecan and maple can add unique, nuanced flavors. It's essential to choose food-grade, untreated wood to ensure a safe and enjoyable smoking experience.
The right cocktail smoker wood chips make all the difference. Although you’ll no doubt need to experiment to find the perfect combo for your favorite spirit, the following represents the best wood chips to try out as you explore various recipes.
Ah, the mighty oak! It's not just a producer of acorns, but a favored wood chip for smoking cocktails. Notable for its medium-smokey flavor, you’ll find oak wood chips to produce an aroma and flavor that is bolder than both cherry and apple, but lighter than mesquite and hickory. And of course, since whiskey and rum are aged in oak barrels, it’s a natural fit for these spirits.
Of all the wood chips that can be used for smoking cocktails, hickory is the boldest, producing a strong aroma and smoky flavor that is robust and an assault on the senses (but in a good way). That said, it is not usually recommended for those just getting into smoked cocktails.
Commonly used for smoking poultry and pork, apple is also a great option for smoking cocktails. Apple wood chips give off a subtly-sweet aroma and slightly fruity flavor that many find perfectly compliments a wide range of drinks.
Smoke from cherry wood chips is a wonderful addition to many cocktails. Fruity, mild, and sweet, authentic cherry wood offers a nuanced and mild complexity that is a perfect entry point for those just getting into smoked cocktails.
Whiskey is known for its complexity, bold attitude, and nosey aroma. It is also a spirit that goes decidedly well with notes of wood and smoke. Virtually all good whiskey is aged in wood barrels for this very reason…some are even aged in charred barrels.
For those who want to give their favorite whiskey more depth and flavor, while transforming its natural aroma into something that is lively and invigorating, smoked wood chips may be the answer.
The Best Whiskey Smoking Wood Chips Include:
For an Old Fashioned, which traditionally features bourbon or rye whiskey, woods that produce a robust and complex smoke tend to be the best choices. Hickory and oak are popular options as they impart a strong, hearty smokiness that complements the deep flavors of the whiskey. Mesquite can also be a good match but it produces an intense smoke, so use it sparingly.
For a Manhattan, which typically features rye or bourbon whiskey along with sweet vermouth, wood chips that add complexity without overwhelming the subtleties of the drink are ideal. Oak is a popular choice for its balanced, medium-bodied smokiness that works well with the whiskey and vermouth. Cherry wood can add a lighter, fruity note that complements the sweet and herbal elements in the cocktail.
Remember, selecting the right wood chips for smoking cocktails can elevate your mixology game to a whole new level. Whether you're looking for the subtle, fruity notes imparted by apple and cherry woods, or seeking the robust, earthy undertones that mesquite and hickory offer, the choice of wood plays a pivotal role in defining the final flavor profile of your cocktail. Oak stands out as a versatile option, compatible with a wide range of spirits.
However, don't shy away from experimenting with lesser-known but equally compelling options like pecan or maple. Just remember, the key is to use food-grade, untreated wood chips to ensure both the safety and integrity of your smoked concoctions. Cheers to mastering the art of smoked cocktails!
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