And while it’s cool to char orange peels like Marc Murphy does in his house Negroni at Landmarc and it’s easy to add a dash of mezcal and smoked salt (which you can make at home in a pinch!) to your Friday night margarita, there’s one ingredient that I was particularly jazzed to try out and play around with.
Bourbon barrel smoked sugar is the yin to smoked salt’s yang—the sweet counterpart to the savory smoked seasoning. I was introduced to this eye-opening ingredient through Chicago’s Rare Tea Cellar, which has an incredible pantry of exotic and captivating teas, spices, oils, and other add-ons that make me want to turn my kitchen into a laboratory.
Smoked sugar isn’t something I’d try to make at home, having no access to broken-down old bourbon barrels, but they’re the key to developing a smoky flavor that doesn’t overpower the pure sweetness of Demerara sugar. The vanilla notes of the bourbon that have soaked into the oak are gentle, unlike harsher smoked woods like hickory, and the result is a versatile garnish. Sprinkle it over oatmeal or crepes, stir it into coffee or tea, or use it in a cocktail, as is my wont. And, being sugar, it lasts pretty much forever as long as you keep it sealed away from ants and moisture!
The cocktail below follows a familiar formula to those of you who are regular readers of my drinks column here on Good. Food. Stories. Certain combinations—ginger and smokiness, lemon and ginger, mint and lemon—are irresistible to me, and it’s hard to throw them together in one drink and not get a spectacular result. (If you’re feeling extra lemony, you can add a few drops of Rare Tea Cellar’s Pharaoh’s Ancient Lemon Syrup to the drink below for a sweeter, more citrusy punch.)
Smoky Mint Ginger-Ade
Prep time:10 minutes
Total time:10 minutes
Makes 2 drinks
- 1 wedge of lemon + smoked sugar for rimming glasses (optional)
- 1 large handful mint
- 1 tablespoon smoked sugar
- 2 fl. oz. (1/4 cup) ginger liqueur—I love The King’s Ginger, but Domaine Canton is great too
- 2 fl. oz. (1/4 cup) fresh lemon juice
- 4 fl. oz. (1/2 cup) water
Squeeze a wedge of lemon around the rim of 2 cocktail glasses to wet the edge, then dip the rims in smoked sugar, if desired.
Muddle the mint and sugar together briefly in a cocktail shaker, then add the ginger liqueur, lemon juice, and water.
Stir to dissolve the sugar in the liquid, then add a handful of ice cubes. Close the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
Strain the cocktail, dividing it evenly between the two glasses. Serve immediately.