Until Saturday, I had never had a good cocktail based on a smokey scotch.
This has been a terrible shame, as I love smokey scotch. My all time favorite (that is reasonably easy to find) is Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask. It’s so smokey it’s like drinking bog water.
Despite, and because of, its awesome flavor, smokey scotch is hard to mix with. For one thing, the nose often dominates whatever you mix with it. For another, the liquor itself is very strong, above and beyond its alcohol content. Even hard core scotch fiends in Scotland drink it with water to cut the taste. My buddies and I will put a cube or two of ice into a glass of smokey scotch and give it a few minutes to dilute before drinking. But still it’s delicious.
Last Saturday, I ate at Menton in Boston (truly fantastic, btw) and was served The Smoking Gun for my first cocktail. It’s base was Laphroaig’s 10 Year, which means business, but the cocktail did not smell of smoke! The nose was citrusy from lemon, but not smokey. What’s more, the smokey flavor was still strong in the drink itself without being overpowered. In short, the drink was an absolute revelation.
After making The Arbitrary Nature of Time (post forthcoming on that one) for myself tonight, I was also in the mood for more Campari and feeling adventurous, but didn’t want something so sweet as the Cherry Herring also featured in the cocktail.
Recipe: The Smoking Sour
- 1.5 oz Johnnie Walker Double Black (or any really smokey scotch)
- 1.5 oz Campari
- 3/4 oz Bramble Wild Blackberry Brandy
- 3/4 oz Lemon Juice
- 5 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
- 5 dashes Bitter Truth aromatic bitters (can substitute Angostura, but you’d probably need a few more dashes since it’s not as bitter)
- Lemon Twist (garnish)
Stir the lot in a Boston Shaker with ample ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon to offset the blood-like color.
Straight up, The Smoking Sour was delicious. It’s very rare that I make something up and nail it the first time, but I can say unashamedly that this time I succeeded. At the risk of sounding macabre, the serious, dark blood color of it is, itself, unique and very beautiful, and completely an accident. I only added the lemon twist to set off against the color of the beverage.
Here is what went through my head thinking it up.
I didn’t have any Laphroaig at home, sadly, but I did have some Johnnie Walker Double Black, which is a smokey blend that’s actually quite good.
I went 1-to-1 Campari with the scotch, since experiments with Campari and various whiskeys so far have lead me to believe that anything less leaves the Campari in the dust and more serves to water down the whiskey than anything else. You need something close to 1-to-1 to get it to show through.
The Arbitrary Nature of Time featured the Cherry Herring, which is a strongly flavored, sweet liquor. I didn’t want something so sweet, even given the lemon in this drink, so wanted to substitute something with sweetness that was also, itself, a little tart. The Wild Blueberry Brandy hit the spot there. Very tasty. My dad happened to bring this back from London. I think without this I would have used maybe 1/2 oz Cherry Herring, or maybe 1/2 oz simple syrup to give the sweetness needed.
I squeezed an entire half lemon into it, not quite sure how much I’d need. However, somehow this was perfect. The smoke was almost entirely missing from the nose of the drink without being overpowered at all in the drinking of it. I think this is the trick from The Smoking Gun from Menton.
Finally, I used quite a bit of bitters. Partly that’s because I like my drinks a little more bitter than standard, but mostly it was because I wanted to cut through the scotch on the back of the drink. The Bitter Truth bitters are, from earlier tasting, very bitter. In fact, that’s almost the only thing that recommends them. Regan’s, as far as orange bitters go, is also very bitter, and they also have some spiciness to them so are not a single note.