Right from when I noticed, earlier in the year, that Guy Fawkes night (5th November) fell on a Saturday I had the idea of doing a themed Candlelight Club party, somehow creating cocktails with smoky, fiery flavours.
A few ingredients immediately leapt to mind. First was Chase’s Oak-Smoked Vodka, which is produced in limited editions (now on its second batch) by allowing oak smoke to infuse into the spirit for about a week in a specially designed smoke chamber. It’s an extraordinary taste—and not to everyone’s liking, as my partner observed when he wrinkled his nose and said it smelled like bacon. (I didn’t tell him that bacon vodka is a well-established concept.) But it’s also quite a subtle flavour. I tried various vodka cocktails, such as one called a Hot Tub which combines vodka with pineapple juice and prosecco, but the results weren’t very nice. It works fine in a Bloody Mary, but that’s quite a feisty cocktail for a delicate vodka (and many people are convinced it’s really a breakfast drink). So I decided it perhaps needed showcasing in a simpler recipe and ended up with a Collins/Fizz arrangement and hit on the idea of adding a bit of fruit body from sloe gin, a seasonal and rather English beverage.
2 shots Chase oak-smoked vodka
1 shot sloe gin (I used Hayman’s)
½ shot lemon juice
½ shot sugar syrup
Shake first four ingredients and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water.
The smoke is not at all puckering or cloying: it’s a subtle background dry waft, almost meaty, indeed like smoked duck or bacon. The sloes are again calm, dry and rather ethereal compared to, say, the blackberries in cassis (see below), with a hint of spice. With the pencil-lead juniper from the base gin this ends up a little like smoked game with a sloe and juniper jus. The lack of cloyingness to the fruit makes this a lean, refreshing number; just the thing to follow a country ramble in the late autumn afternoon—with a suggestion of dinner to come!
In the spring I was introduced to a ballsy product called Fireball, made from Canadian whisky blended with a cinnamon liqueur. Despite its name it’s not really hot, but has a vague pepperiness to its cinnamon spice. But for the name alone I thought it was worth including. One of the brand’s signature serves is a cocktail called Dub Dub’s Apple Pie, cleverly combing the cinnamon of the whisky with apple, a classic pairing. But Fireball is a pretty in-your-face flavour, with a medicinal quality that reminds me of surgical spirit (or rootbeer, depending on your drinking history), so I replaced half of the Fireball with calvados to calm it down a bit while emphasising the apple:
1 shot Fireball cinnamon whisky
1 shot calvados
1½ shots apple juice
1 shot lemon juice
10ml egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients vigorously and strain into a Martini or coupé glass.
Even in this reduced quantity, the sweetness of the Fireball offsets the lemon juice pretty well, though some might want to add a bit of syrup. It is a lot like baked apple with cinnamon!
There is a well-established simple cocktail called a Smoky Martini which adds a small amount of whisky (most likely a smoky Islay malt or a blend with a high smoked malt content) to a normal Martini (often omitting the vermouth). In a party environment I tend to steer clear of cocktails that are basically all spirit, so I combined this idea with the Abbey/Bronx direction of lengthening it with a small amount of orange juice, plus a sweet-sour mix of sugar syrup and lime juice to give it body.
1½ shots gin
½ shot Islay malt whisky
1 shot orange juice
½ shot sugar syrup
¾ shot lime juice
Shake all ingredients and strain into a Martini or coupé glass.
The flavour of this cocktail will obviously depend on your choice of whisky. With Bowmore it is fairly subtle but with Laphroaig it’s more up-front in its smoky, peaty, iodine character. But even using Laphroaig it makes a drink that Mrs H.—who basically doesn’t like whisky—declared to be very tasty.
Everyone seems to be using tea in cockails at the moment, so inevitably the idea of smoked lapsang souchong tea came up. There is a cocktail called a Smoky Old Bastard (on the grounds that it is a bastardisation of an Old Fashioned) that combines Bourbon, lapsang and maple syrup. I had some maple syrup knocking around so I gave it a try. I found it a trifle thin so I experimented with fruiting it up a bit using apricot (which I always think goes rather nicely with bourbon) and plum bitters.
2 shots bourbon
2 shots cold lapsang souchong tea
1 shot crème d’abricot
½ shot lemon juice
¼ shot maple syrup (or regular syrup)
2 dashes plum bitters
Shake all ingredients and strain into a rocks-filled glass
The apricot liqueur adds sweetness so you don’t need much syrup—in fact you probably don’t much notice the fact that it is maple syrup, so I’m sure simple syrup would do just as well. The tannins in the tea dry it out, so it’s quite a refreshing drink, not hefty.
Finally, I wanted to include ginger, and ended up adapting a recipe from the 1940s called El Diablo. This is tequila-based, but I wanted something that better evoked the pagan horrors lurking in the English hedgerow, so I used gin instead, along with the ginger beer, lime and crème de cassis of the original, plus some of Monin’s extraordinary gingerbread syrup, mainly because it seemed seasonal.
2 shots gin
¾ shot crème de cassis
1 shot lime juice
1 tsp (5ml) gingerbread syrup
Shake first four ingredients and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with ginger beer.
The gingerbread syrup can be very overwhelming and, even with just a teaspoon, it and the blackcurrant are the dominant flavours—and they go together very well. (I see that Gabriel Boudier makes a blackcurrant and gingerbread liqueur, so I am clearly not the only person who thinks this.) To be honest you aren’t much aware of the gin and it would probably work well with white rum too.
I had just acquired some of Master of Malt’s chipotle (smoked chilli) bitters and was intrigued to try adding some, to turn up the heat of the ginger (some ginger beer has chilli in it), while again adding some smokiness, but Mrs H. persuaded me that it might be nice to have at least one cocktail that was neither hot nor smoky, so I let it lie. For now. Mwah, hah, hah hah…