Bartenders add some heat to accentuate the flavors of cocktails
Fire, brimstone, smoke and spirits unleashed.
Is this Dante’s hell? Actually, it’s probably just a rather trendy bar.
It’s true. In the past couple of years, mixologists across the country have taken a renewed interest in playing with fire, and the results have been quite, well, illuminating. What they’re showing is that fire, and all things associated with it, can actually transform even the most basic drink into something new and intriguing.
Here along the Gulf Coast, in these weeks known comically as winter, having some fire behind the bar is even more appropriate. Those slushy, icy drinks of August don’t have the same appeal when the air conditioning isn’t needed.
One of the first things fire brings to the bar top is heat, and in the cocktail world, that means drinks served hot. Hot cocktails have a long, long history with drinks such as warmed brandy, hot buttered rum or the more medicinal hot toddy. These go back to the earliest of cocktail history in Europe and have never really lost their appeal. After all, when it’s chilly outside, a hot drink warms the insides.
While Americans typically drink their cocktails cold, or even store their alcohol in the freezer, the sad fact is, the colder it’s served, the more the nuances of flavor and ingredients are lost in the chill.
“I have some ice sitting under the bar,” an Inverness, Scotland bartender once said to an American visitor who had just ordered a single malt Scotch with an ice cube. “I’ll slip some in your glass, but try to keep it hidden. These other fellows will run us both out of here.”
Most aficionados agree that any decent liquor tastes best at room temperature or even slightly warmed — and that’s not limited to dark liquors. Tequila, vodka — no, it’s not tasteless — and gin all take on new life without the chilling effects of ice. The same can be said when those alcohols are used in cocktails in which the mixer is also warmed or hot.
At the always adventurous 1888 Toujouse Bar in The Tremont House in Galveston’s downtown, for example, mixologists have taken the cold-weather classic, hot chocolate, and combined it with a typical hot weather alcohol, tequila, to come up with the South of the Border Hot Chocolate. The slightly earthy, peppery taste of good tequila goes amazingly well with chocolate, like spicy food and mole, and the heat accentuates all of that.
Besides the enhanced tastes of hot cocktails, there’s another benefit. Hot cocktails can be good for you. Really. As in medicinal. Seriously.
OK, for one, you don’t gulp a hot drink. It must be sipped. Thus, you enjoy its taste more, and, in theory, you drink fewer cocktails. Secondly, many hot drinks contain citrus juices, mineral waters and spices in addition to the alcohol, all known to help the immune system fight off colds. And finally, hot drinks such as the hot toddy or buttered rum can work much like cough medicine in soothing the sore throat or nagging cough. In fact, the alcohol content in cough medicine rivals that of a toddy. Ask yourself, Toddy or NyQuil?
Do you know the saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away”? At the Galvez Bar & Grill in the Hotel Galvez on the island, bartenders have come up with a seasonal drink known as Broken Leg Cider. OK, so maybe the doctor isn’t treating your cold. But it’s a delicious hot cocktail made with Southern Comfort, Fireball Whisky, apple cider and slice of orange for good measure. It’s a downright health drink.
Oh, and those warm drinks splashed with mineral water? Mineral waters contain plenty of sulfides, the basis of sulfur, which is also called brimstone.
Fire brings more to the bar, too. They say where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but the opposite is also true. Where there’s fire, there’s also smoke. One of the hottest — pardon the pun — trends in mixology actually does have bartenders blowing smoke.
Smoke is probably one of the most amazing ingredients in any cocktail that has come along since someone came up with the maraschino cherry, which also has sulfur dioxide, by the way.
There are two basic ways to add smoke to your drink. The best way is to buy a smoke gun. There are a number of inexpensive ones for less than $60 on the market, but the two most often mentioned are The Smoking Gun from PolyScience for around $100 and The Aladin Smoker for more than $300. Note: Cocktails are their secondary purpose, as they are used more for smoking foods.
These guns come with a hose for directing the smoke and small chamber in which to add anything with which you want to create smoke. Kits with a variety of smoking ingredients are available, or you can create your own favorites.
Smoking sources can be anything from shavings from the typical chips used in the barbecue and outdoor smoker, to teas, herbs and combinations of all of them. Experimenting makes this even more fun, and each different smoke seems to make a new drink with the same alcohol.
Once the smoking material is lit, a fan helps push the smoke out of the chamber and into a hose. For the most intense flavor, the hose is placed into an empty decanter, allowing the smoke to seep in for a few minutes before the alcohol or cocktail is poured into it. It only takes a few moments for the drink to be ready.
The smoke also can be swirled directly into an upturned cocktail glass so that when the cocktail is added, it will still be smoking. Or it can be plunged directly into the drink to do its magic that way.
What does this do? Author of “The Craft of the Cocktail” and famed mixologist Dale DeGroff described the smoke effect “a richness, complexity and depth of flavor that can make a respectable cocktail great and a great cocktail a work of art.”
There’s an easier and less expensive, though not as effective, way to add a smoke taste to your cocktail. All you need is for you or someone you know who puts up with your insane ideas to have a barbecue pit or smoker and old-fashioned ice trays. This method is to smoke your ice.
And now you’re wondering what else you should be smoking.
To smoke ice, you simply take a tray of ice cubes and put them in an ovenproof pan. Put the pan of ice in the smoker or barbecue pit full of smoke, close the lid and let the ice stay there until it melts. Strain the melted cubes back into the ice tray and refreeze. The result is ice that has its own smoky flavor and gives you an idea what the smoke gun can do. It’s important that you start with ice cubes rather than just water because it takes ice to absorb the smoke flavor.
As with the smoke gun, the flavors that can be infused in the ice are plentiful. All kinds of wood chips work, as do citrus peels and herbs, such as rosemary. In fact, rosemary smoked ice in gin will make the standard gin and tonic stand up and salute.
And so it is that fire, brimstone, smoke and spirits might just be the perfect companions in the winter bar. The devil is in the details.
South of the Border Hot Chocolate
Compliments of the 1888 Toujouse Bar at The Tremont House
1 ounce Milagro Tequila
½ ounce peppermint schnapps
6 ounces hot chocolate
Cinnamon stick for garnish
Whipped cream (optional)
Pour the Tequila and schnapps into an 8.5-ounce Irish coffee mug. Stir in the hot chocolate. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and whipped cream.
Broken Leg Cider
Compliments of the Galvez Bar & Grill at the Hotel Galvez
¾ ounce Southern Comfort
¾ ounce Fireball Whisky
6 ounces hot apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 slice of orange
Heat the cider until just steaming. Pour the Southern Comfort and Fireball Whisky in a brandy snifter and warm over a tea candle. Pour the warm liquor into an Irish coffee mug and add the hot apple cider. Stir and garnish with cinnamon stick and slice of orange and serve.