As what could probably be called an artisanal drink maker (yes, I flatter myself in my head – what of it?), I am all about homemade stuff. I made my own Swedish Punsch a while back (and got pretty drunk with my girlfriend’s relatives on their Christmas gift-bottle of such), I have three different bottles of homemade bitters, a batch of Pimento Dram aging in my liquor cabinet, and so many syrups that my housemates have told me I have to use them up before I can make new ones (which is a drag, since my quassia-based tonic syrup is sure to be a knockout). I’ve also occasionally been tempted into infused liqueurs – from the total failure of basil schnapps to the modest success of horseradish vodka and saffron-infused vermouth. But the thing about all of these, especially the liqueurs, is, well, they’re novelties. They’re great for bars, where a thousand people will come in a month, none of whom have had your particular genius concoction. At home, you make a whole bottle of, say, bacon-infused bourbon, and then, after making a couple Bacon Old-Fashioneds and saying “Whoa, breakfast in a glass… at night!” (Jesus Christ, I hope you’re drinking those at night) to your bemused friends, you put it back on the shelf. And it stays there. Forever.
But here’s the thing. I really, really love smoked things. Smoked porter? Yes please. As I type, I am sitting next to my oven, in which I am indoor-smoking some pork-belly using a technique based on lapsang suchong, a smoked Chinese tea. And the current Imbibe, with its article on smoking every goddamn thing that could conceivably go into a drink (including the ice), hasn’t helped curb my desire to at least taste something like a Bacon Manhattan. Unfortunately, the limited brilliance of bartenders in Champaign-Urbana is oriented more towards body shots than home-made liqueurs (much love to Radio Maria as a slight exception).
And then I had an idea. A brilliant, awesome idea. An idea that, quite possibly, has been had by someone before, but I am totally not going to hurt my own feelings by doing exhaustive research on it (fine, I checked, and that issue of Imbibe mentions infusing cognac with lapsang suchong, but they want you to use a whole bottle and it takes hours). As you may have been able to tell, I’m the kind of guy who prefers to, say, muddle a couple cardamom pods into a drink, rather than make cardamom syrup (well, prefer is kind of strong, but my roommates definitely prefer it), and there’s a great recipe in Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe! (I have got to stop referring to both of those publications in the same post) for a “Modern Tea Punch”, which calls for a direct addition of green tea to what is basically a sour – pre-shaking – rather than an infusion into a liqueur or syrup. And the lapsang suchong I used for the pork-belly smelled really, really good.
(I’m not apologizing to Dave Wondrich for this one)
- 2 oz Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
- 1/4 oz rich simple syrup
- 2 dashes bitters (I used homemade Cherry-Vanilla)
- 1 tsp lapsang suchong
Let all ingredients sit in a mixing glass without ice for about 30 seconds, to let the tea infuse. Shake all ingredients hard with ice for at least 30 seconds. Double-strain through fine-mesh. Garnish with a ginger coin, if you’ve got one, or, if you’re feeling sassy, a cube of home-smoked bacon on-a-stick.
As you can see, I had neither bacon (it was in the oven!) or ginger to garnish this with and, furthermore, my fine-mesh strainer was clearly not up to dealing with those tiny tea particles. Next time I’ll use my, wait for it, tea strainer, and, you know, have bacon.
Oh, right. How does it taste? Damn. That is really all I want to say. This is a man’s drink. A desperately overweight, bacon-loving man. Or, you know, anyone else who likes smoke. Wh-who doesn’t like smoke? Help me out here. Alright, back on track – this drink is clearly more a proof-of-concept than anything. Check back in this space for everything from Smoked Manhattans to, hell, Smoked Martinis (without using a dash of your precious Caol Ila!) in the future.
And, finally, unlike most smoked-drink recipes, it’s easy, single-serving, and cheap. And, essentially, foolproof. Plus, if someone doesn’t like smoke, you can mix them up a drink with the same bottle of liquor – not sigh, put the barely touched, homemade stuff back and get the normal bottle. It’s all in the drink-mixing; no more bar cling-ons.