Smoked Ice: Elevate Your Holiday Party With A Cocktail Tip From The Experts
A memorable cocktail is quintessential part of any successful holiday party, but in the age of molecular mixology, standing out can be a challenge. This winter season, step up your cocktail game by adding smoke – not just to the garnish, but to the ice itself. Smoked cocktails are a surefire way to spruce up a seasonal beverage, but some methods are better than others. To help you get the most out of your smoked cocktail recipes this winter, we asked experts Mary Cressler and Sean Martin, members of Team Green, Big Green Egg’s team of world class grill experts, and gurus behind Vindulge, an online resource dedicated to innovating creative recipes behind both bar and grill.
Why add smokiness to a cocktail?
Vindulge: All cocktails benefit from a mix of flavor profiles. Smoked ice adds an interesting flavor that can really make a drink stand out.
What’s the best way to smoke a cocktail?
It depends on what you’re going for, but there are a ton of great methods. Some people use liquid smoke, but that can have a very chemical-like flavor, so we steer clear. Another way is to use a smoke gun, and that’s convenient, but the flavor tends not to linger long, and no one needs another expensive gadget that they’ll use once a year. You can also smoke water, and turn it into ice cubes as a cocktail base. Smoked ice is our preferred method most of the time, and it’s free.
Or, you can smoke the actually element in the drink, like tomatoes for the Bloody Mary, or berries to infuse into a simple syrup. This gets you the most authentic smoke flavor, and you also have the option of grilling them hot and fast for more of a charred, earthy flavor. This gives you a bunch of options to modify a drink.
What’s the best tool for smoking a drink?
If you google smoked cocktails you’ll see a mashup of expensive and fancy “cocktail guns.” We prefer using our go-to smoker, the Big Green Egg, but any good smoker that can maintain the right low temperature is good for smoking water or fruit. A Big Green Egg is the perfect example of a highly efficient kamado-style smoker that holds the temperature perfectly at 200 to 225 degrees
, and maintains it with no additional effort. Alternatively, a good pellet grill that can hold a lower temperature would also work.
From there you need a good ice mold. If you are going to smoke ice, you want to make it look pretty. Large round or square ice molds are perfect, and you don’t need to bother with distilled water because the look of smoked water is naturally a little cloudy and becomes a light shade of brown. Crystal-clear ice cubes are not the goal.
How do smoked cocktails complement the holiday season?
Aside from a perfectly cooked prime rib, there are few things more exciting than telling people you made a smoked cocktail. It’s a great conversation piece for your family and friends, and you can prepare many of the ingredients ahead of time to incorporate into different drinks.
What’s your favorite recipe for achieving smokey flavor?
Our go-to method is smoked ice. Fire up your grill—for us it’s the Big Green Egg—and keep the temperature low and under boiling, so roughly 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Get a large bowl of water in the smoker, and then let it absorb the smoke for a couple of hours. We try to go three. The longer you go, the smokier it becomes.
Another method is to make simply syrup by grilling or smoking fruit like lemons, oranges, or even berries. After smoking them for a couple of hours you can squeeze out the juice concentrate and add them to a simply syrup mix of sugar and water. From there, follow the normal method to make simple syrup, and you have a fun addition to any cocktail or sparkling wine.
Lastly, there’s the smoke tabletop tools. They certainly add smoke, but that smoke tends to wear off quickly, so we prefer the Big Green Egg for its more authentic smoke flavor profile.
Why smoked ice?
The best benefit is flavor—a touch of smoke that permeates in a drink as the ice slowly melts. While we may not use this for a “rock” when drinking good bourbon, it is a nice touch when we want to create a new twist on old classics—there are only so many ways to make an Old Fashioned. But when you add smoked ice to the drink it brings a unique and earthy aroma and flavor profile that stands out.
What booze works best with smoked cocktails?
Almost all cocktails can benefit from a smoky element. Rum, bourbon, and whiskey drinks are great with smoked ice. Anything that has a fruit element like berries, citrus, or tomatoes is also a perfect candidate. Smoke them and add them to the cocktail after they’ve been juiced or infused in some way into the ingredient list. On a fun brunch morning you’ll see us smoke tomatoes and then using them as a base for a Bloody Mary Mix. It’s also great because you can make the base a few days in advance and then mix the drinks when company comes over.
Any liquors to avoid with smoked ice?
The only liquor we avoid adding smoke to is mescal, which has its own smoky element.
Would you suggest adding smoked ice to an already smokey cocktail—say, a cocktail with liquid smoke in it?
That makes for too much smoke. If we had one dream it would be to convince people to move away from liquid smoke and consider doing the real thing. When you have a good smoker like a Big Green Egg, it doesn’t take much labor, only the time involved to set up the temperature and then allow the ingredient to smoke. That’s why we tell people to make their own smoked ice—it’s more authentic and doesn’t have the bitter flavor that comes from liquid smoke.
How do you integrate smoking ice into your meal prep for a dinner party or event? What’s the order of operations?
Running a catering company, meant we not only had to plan ahead, but also make sure that everything was ready at just the right time. A couple of days before the party, we suggest smoking the water and getting it into ice molds. It needs at least 10 hours in the freezer to fully freeze over. We like to keep it simple, so feature one cocktail with smoked ice at the party and then have wine and other beverages available.
The morning of the event, we pre-mix the cocktail so there isn’t a line at the shaker. Yeah, you may lose a little of the fresh flavor but I want to hang with people not make drinks all night. We also prepare all the garnishes. So, any lemon twists are made and stored in the refrigerator, so they don’t oxidize. Then when people arrive the ice is in a bowl, the cocktail mix is in a large container, and it’s as simple as adding ice to the glass, pouring the mix, and adding your garnish. Then it’s onto food prep.
What reaction do you usually get when serving smokey cocktails at a holiday party?
Without fail, the reaction is awe and “how did you do that?” It then involves a trip out to the Big Green Egg and a walkthrough of the method. People are amazed with how simple it is. And then we tell them we have a recipe online and can share it with them. Of course, we have our smoked ice cocktail in hand while we’re talking.
Anything else about smoked ice the readers should know?
Play around with how long you smoke the water and experiment with different wood types. If you use mesquite or hickory, the smoke flavor will really be pronounced, and maybe you like that versus the more nuanced flavor of fruit woods. Avoid soft woods that leave a bitter flavor, like pine or cedar. It’s all about experimenting with the technique and finding the flavor you like.
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