For a peaty whisky drinker like me, smoked cocktails are a natural extension. I prefer my cocktails slightly bitter, without (much) syrup, and balanced for flavour. Smoked cocktails add that extra enjoyable dimension for my senses. This is especially true for sweeter drinks.
While cocktails made with craft bitters are hitting an all-time high all over Toronto, smoked cocktails have become a speciality over at King West's Portland Variety. A smoked old fashion, negroni, or manhattan take on new characteristics while remaining true to their flavour profile.
There is a difference, however, between smoky cocktails and smoked cocktails. Smoky cocktails are often made with peated single malt scotch, or mezcals. In both instances, the grain or plant is smoked before fermentation. This characters carries through the distillation process, giving you a smoky spirit which adds hints of smokiness to the mixed drink. Smoked cocktails are smoked during the making of the cocktail, and they can get far more intense in their smoky profile. I met with Jody, bar manager at Portland Variety, to get more insight on how the delicious drinks are made at Portland Variety.
There are two main ways Jody smokes cocktails. The first involves using a hand-held smoker with a tube that takes smoke from lit wood chips, and pumps the smoke into a container. If you have the Tequila Bong at Portland Variety, you can see the smoked cocktail getting poured through a smoke-filled decanter. It makes for a great show!
While visually appealing, smoked cocktails are quite mild in smoke after the initial pour. You'll get hints of charred wood, but otherwise the drink is quite mild in smokiness and makes for a perfect introduction to smoky drinks.
If you're really into smoked drinks (like I am), smoking the glass is an entirely new experience. In this case, Jody torches a block of wood until it burns red hot. At that point, the glass covers the wood and is allowed to sit. The cocktail is then poured into the glass immediately afterwards.
In this instance, depending on the length of time the glass was smoked, the delicious smoky characteristic will last throughout the drink. This method works better with sweeter spirits such as rum because of the heaviness of the smoke.
Jody has been matching different wood types for different types of drinks. Applewood is most often used with the smoked gun, and hickory for the block of wood. In addition to wood, smoked drinks can include herbs and teas for added complexity.
Cocktails at Portland Variety are taking on a very competitive bar scene in the area. While they're not the first to smoke cocktails (Bar Chef offered a $45 smoked drink), Jody and Portland Variety are taking a lead in Toronto on a delicious trend that's just starting out.
Originally posted on Spotlight Toronto