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Welcome to Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Cherry Tobacco Old Fashioned!
Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I’ve had a hankering to talk about one of the sexier craft cocktail techniques I’ve played with over the years. When a bartender smokes a bourbon cocktail for you, it can be an experience right up there with a hibachi chef juggling cleavers by a flat-top griddle. Most of the time, smoking a cocktail involves using expensive equipment and specialty wood chips. I’ve found a method that costs less than five bucks, and imparts a ton of flavor. Smoke one if you’ve got one – we’re making a Cherry Tobacco Old Fashioned. This one’s a nod to the house special at Crafted Cocktail, the best bar I’ve ever worked at. Here’s the recipe:
Cherry Tobacco Old Fashioned
4 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
2 bar spoons Luxardo cherry syrup
1 dropperful Old Forester Bohemian Bitters
Large orange twist
2-3 Luxardo cherries
1 Quorum cigar (or other good quality cigar)
Place a double old fashioned glass in the refrigerator to chill. Cut a ¼” round from the tip of the cigar. Break the cigar round apart into a pile of tobacco leaves on the grilling plank. Ignite the tobacco leaves with the kitchen torch until they smolder. Upend your chilled double old fashioned glass over the leaves and wait until all smoke has ceased from the ashes. Turn the cocktail glass over, and add all other ingredients. Stir over ice. Strain into a clean double old fashioned glass. Garnish with Luxardo cherries and an orange peel.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: If the scent of cigar smoke makes you nauseous, don’t use a cigar in this drink. A cinnamon stick smolders very nicely, and provides great flavor. If you’re a barbecue fan and have wood chips left over from grilling season, a handful will do wonders here. (The smaller the chips, the better. Dig into the bottom of the bag.) The technique is what really matters here, as opposed to the ingredients.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a few puffs on a stogie, however, this drink is for you. Cigars are a bit like coffee; for some, the scent is more appealing than the taste. This technique captures the aroma of a good cigar in a cocktail without overwhelming the cherry or bourbon. Cigars and bourbon are a great pairing; it’s wonderful to be able to combine the two without any of the nasty health issues. (Well, most of them. It’s liquor, after all. Enjoy responsibly.)
What I love about this technique is that it provides a long, lingering smoke finish. Cigar smokers know that the taste of a cigar lingers in your nose and mouth well after you’ve finished smoking. This drink offers the same experience. You don’t taste ash in the drink, but as you sip you find that welcome cigar finish slowly building in your tastebuds. You’ll get a similar experience with a different smoke source. The drink won’t taste like ash, but as you enjoy it you'll be reminded of sitting in front of a campfire late at night.
The trick here is recognizing that you aren’t pumping smoke to the bourbon; you’re smoking a glass. Cocktail smokers can run as high as $100 on Amazon, but they’re all show instead of taste. My technique harvests the smoke residue from the glass and incorporates all of that flavor into the drink, instead of just exposing the top of the liquid to the smoke. You don’t need much more than a kitchen torch, which gives you more freedom to experiment.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Woodford Reserve Bourbon: I’m not a bourbon fan myself, but this one is far and away one of my favorites. Gentle and full of chardonnay-like vanilla and toast notes, it’s very approachable and mellow. I’d be willing to try Bulleit or Weller Special Reserve here as well. A pricier bourbon is subtle and complex; smoking it would overwhelm the finishing notes of the bourbon proper. I’m strongly tempted to try a nice brandy like Henessey; brandy and cigars are an epic pairing.
Luxardo Cherries: I tried to resist temptation. Luxardos are very pricey indeed at $20 a jar. But they are the tastiest cocktail garnish ever, and the cherry syrup in the jar is a magnificent sweetener for Old Fashioneds. I’ve used sour cherry syrup from my local Middle Eastern market as well. It’s cheaper, and still very good. But in the end, Luxardos win out.
Bulleit Bohemian Bitters: I am completely in love with these spiced cherry bitters for bourbon cocktails. They’re no more expensive than a bottle of Angostura bitters, and much less assertive. If you don’t have access to this little magic bottle, please use a few dashes of orange bitters.
Technique notes: The size of the glass you use to cover the ashes matters. Too much oxygen and you risk creating black, acrid smoke that will ruin the effect. A little fuel, a little air, and you’re good to go. Cigar lighters are small, disposable butane lighters that provide an intense flame comparable to a kitchen torch. You can find them on sale for as little as $3, much less expensive than a culinary torch. I’d strongly consider a cigar lighter for making creme brulee for two or another small kitchen task. It’s always nice to find a hack that avoids purchasing another kitchen gadget… or bar gadget, for that matter.
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