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Diageo Bar Academy | a smoking espresso martini

Author: Tim Philips-Johansson, Johnnie Walker Global Brand Ambassador.

There is a balance between adding creative flair to cocktails for dramatic effect and ensuring techniques heighten the flavors of your drinks. Read on as Tim Philips-Johansson shares some of the best tried and tested methods for smoking cocktails.

how smoking cocktails work

Finding a balance between adding a depth of flavor to your cocktails, whilst creating theater and that perfect photogenic moment, is something you really want to get right. Although creating a buzz on social media can be beneficial, the quality and consistency of your bar menu is something that should be front of mind.

As a first step, it’s important to find the right drink to smoke. Traditionally, richer cocktails with dark and heady spirits like whisky, brandy or rum all result in wonderful campfire notes that are brought about by smoking them.

Some drinks simply aren’t enhanced by the smoking process. There's no exact right or wrong, but drinks that are great for their zest and fresh luster are probably dulled by warming smoke from charred wood chips or spices. Trial and error (and a good dose of common sense) will take you far when experimenting with different methods for smoking cocktails.

Smoking Cocktails Tutorial

Want to wow your customers? Try this step-by-step video using Bulleit Rye whiskey to create the perfect smoking cocktail.


Smoked Sazerac

1 1/2 oz Bulleit Rye

1/2 oz Caol Ila 12 y.o

1/2 Tbsp Golden Syrup (2:1 syrup to water)

4-6 Dried tarragon leaves (broken)

3 Dash of absinthe


  • Place dried leaves on a wooden chopping board and douse with dashes of absinthe
  • Light leaves in the fire with a blowtorch
  • Place rocks glass face down over flaming leaves to extinguish and fill with smoke
  • Take all other ingredients and place into mixing glass
  • Top glass with ice and stir the mix for 10-15 seconds until it's cold and diluted
  • Strain directly into rocks glass over a block of ice
  • Garnish drink with a small sprig of fresh eucalyptus leaves. Enjoy!


The above tutorial shows a more traditional method of smoking where all you need is a blowtorch and a heavy-duty surface (of course adhering to health and safety at all times).

Whether it’s dried aromatic leaves, spices like cinnamon or cardamom, or more traditional wood chips, adding smoke to cocktails can be as easy as finding the right aromatic, torching it and letting that fire’s aromatics fill a glass.

Alternatively, there’s a cheaper way to inject smoke into your creation without the need for a blowtorch or smoking gun. Take, for example, a classic Sazerac. Traditionally, you would simply add rye whiskey, sugar, and bitters to a mixing glass, stir for 20 seconds, then strain into an absinthe-rinsed glass. The absinthe adds an herbal, almost mint-like aroma to the drink, adding depth and a curious finish to an old-fashioned.

And whilst these are both easy and effective methods I’d recommend trying, the best option is often to use a smoking gun. A smoking gun is basically a handheld vacuum that holds wood chips. These chips are then lit on fire with a lighter or blow torch, with the vacuum pulling the ensuing smoke through a hose and out of the end nozzle. This nozzle can be placed inside bottles, glassware or even a smoking box. Smoking boxes work by placing your desired finished cocktail into a small glass box, filling the box with your desired level of smoke, and releasing the drink to your guest through a glass door, an effect that can be so impressive.


Once you have your equipment and drink set up, decide on what element of your drink to smoke, whether it's the liquid itself, the serving vessel, or garnish, as well as how much smoke to inject into your drink. These decisions can make or break your drink. A lighter style cocktail like a Martini may only need a gesture from a smoked olive to have an effect, whilst other drinks like a Penicillin or Bloody Mary can probably hold up to having the entire drink marinate in an applewood smoke-filled box for twenty or thirty seconds. Trial and error is key to mastering the art of smoking cocktails.

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Not all drinks can be enhanced by smoking of cocktails.
  2. Smoke dark and heady cocktails like whisky, brandy or rum.
  3. A smoking gun is the easiest and most professional way to create smoking cocktails.
  4. Decide on whether to smoke the liquid, serving vessel or garnish.
  5. Trial and error is key to mastering the art of smoking cocktails.

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