Smoke signals: adding depth and flavour to drinks with smoke

Dirty burgers, black and blue steaks, posh kebabs – the trend for all things meaty and grilled has been around a while now, with smoke from barbecues, grills and wood burners adding a unique depth and flavour to dishes.

But chefs (and mixologists) have started getting more adventurous when it comes to adding a smoky element to their creations.

We visited Birmingham’s Harborne Kitchen to find out how they’ve been thinking beyond the barbecue to add complexity and bring a dose of theatre to the table.

In the kitchen

Jamie Desogus, the restaurant’s founder and chef, says, “Low and slow cooking, grilling and smoking has been all the rage these last four to five years, but we’ve started being a little bit more innovative with our use of smoke.” One of the restaurant’s most popular sides is a smoked mash made from cold-smoked fresh cream and salt-dried potatoes, which consistently delights guests. “Every day I get asked how it’s made,” he says.

Harborne Kitchen is famous for its constantly evolving tasting menu, which allows the kitchen and bar to work closely together to match flavours. One recent dish, a smoked lamb hogget tartare, posed a special challenge to Drinks Designer Samuel Boulton. “Matching drinks with dishes is always difficult, there are a lot of factors to consider,” he explains. “You need to take the flavour of the dish as a whole, which you can either complement, or alternatively, create something bold to contrast with it,” he says.

At the bar

After much experimenting he settled on the ‘Smoked Rosemary Laphroaig’, which combines smoked vodka, peated Laphroaig Scotch, limoncello for sweetness and a sprig of rosemary, which was lit at the table. “The drink was designed to complement the smoky lamb. The toasted rosemary was the final addition, which made it all pop,” Sam says, “and adds a theatrical element at the table”.

Smoking top tip

When asked if there were any other ways to bring a smoky element to drinks, Sam recommended smoking the glass itself. “Take a blow torch to a piece of untreated wood – we like to use an old stave from a Scotch barrel (Macallan) – then when it starts to glow, cover it with your glass,” he explains. “Allow the glass to fill with smoke, then turn it over. This method helps to avoid over-smoking which you can get from using a smoking gun.”

The smoked glass can then be filled with a cocktail to add light smokiness, or is great for something like an Old Fashioned or a smoked Bloody Mary. “It’s a really simple but very effective way of adding complexity to a drink,” Sam says.

For more ideas on how to wow your guests with interesting serves, take a look at our cocktail videos.

From her uni wine 'tasting' society to studying for her WSET, Sophia has long had a fondness for all things vinous. So after a few years developing her marketing skills in the financial services industry, she decided to mix business with pleasure by moving into the wine trade. Now she writes, instagrams and podcasts about Bibendum’s portfolio of wines and the fascinating people who make them.

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