If you’ve ordered a creme brulee or sliced into the puffy, charred top of a lemon meringue pie, you’re familiar with torched desserts. Food that was set on fire is exciting to slice into—the sound of a cracking hard sugar top alone is a treat—but a browning torch can actually be used for more. At Leyenda in Brooklyn, bartender Ivy Mix experiments with a variety of smoked cocktails using wood, spices, and fruit.
“Smoke is an element that you need to create in order to bring something new to a drink," Mix says. “Not to mention, the technique adds dimension and enhances a flavor profile in a way that you can’t get from simply adding new ingredients.”
Mix showed off a few of her techniques from behind the bar, but with the right equipment (she uses a Bernzomatic TS4000) they can all be replicated at home.
The first technique Mix demonstrated was her Toasted Cedar Tincture. Mix uses a few drops of this highly concentrated alcoholic infusion of toasted raw cedar and liquor (left to infuse overnight) mixture in a cocktail to bring a fresh, woodsy flavor to drinks.
To make the tincture, toast a small block of raw cedar (available at hardware and home improvement stores) placed on a on a metal or fire resistant surface using a torch until the wood turns charred and black but not burnt—this took about 10 seconds, but will ultimately depend on the strength of the torch. Place the wood in a wide container filled with about ½ inch of an extremely high proof alcohol. Mix used Polmos Spirytus Rektyfikowany, which is 192 proof and has a 96 percent ABV. Like Everclear or Bacardi 151, Spirytus Rektyfikowany isn’t for sipping neat, but makes for a delightfully potent tincture. Cover the mixture and let it sit overnight, then transfer it to a dropper bottle. Add a few drops to cocktails that could use a refresher.
Mix also demonstrated how to smoke a glass for a cocktail. This can be done with myriad woods—Mix recommends cedar, wood chips, applewood, Palo Santo, rosewood, or even a cinnamon stick. “It’s so easy,” says Mix. While “You can even do this with your evening night cap at home just to bring it up a notch.”
To smoke a glass, place a small piece of whichever wood you’ve selected (the glass in which you’ll serve your cocktail should be able to fit over the wood) on a metal or fire resistant surface. When the wood starts to smoke, place a cocktail glass upside down over the smoking wood to capture the smoke. Meanwhile, mix your drink in a cocktail shaker—this method works really well with whisky drinks, like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Bruleeing a slice of orange or lemon makes for a stunning cocktail garnish, but Mix explained that torching halves of the fruit can also become a great base for a summery punch, like a smoked spiked lemonade.
Torched springs of herbs like rosemary and thyme will add punch to lighter cocktails, like a Tom Collins, Gin and Tonic, or a Paloma, but they’d also be a unique alternative to a lemon twist in a martini (though their flavor will be much more potent in that type of drink).
Ultimately, Mix thinks it’s best to consider seasonality when torching cocktails. “Smoked drinks are fun for winter and cold weather months. Looking to spring and summer, have fun torching fruit and garnishes to add dimension to a bright drink,” says Mix. “The options are pretty endless.”