This post may be contentious for two reasons, so let’s get them out-of-the-way first:
- This is not a traditional bitter recipe and does not involve alcohol, wormwood or other. Purists may argue about the validity of the term and I’m ok with that. At the end of the day it’s the closest term I knew for something that has a smoky, bitter element that’s primary purpose is to dash into a cocktail to add flavor.
- This product involves ingesting an infusion that is made of wood and smoke. This is probably not the healthiest thing in the world to consume and likely could lead you into health troubles if you drank a lot of it. Our final cocktails include less than a ml of the stuff, so I’ve taken a leap of faith.
In prepping for our Home Ec party last night, we needed to have a special ingredient for our cocktail of the month. Given that it was my world premiere as bartender, I needed to keep the featured cocktail within my comfort zone. That meant we were going to be serving our Maple Syrup Amaretto Sour. While it’s an awesome recipe by itself, I wanted to make sure it had a special ingredient/ twist to it as we’ve done that will all cocktails in the series so far (Home Ec is a monthly event).
I decided to do away with the bitters wanted to replace them with something made by hand. It’s difficult to come by common material to make bitters in Canada (a very high percentage alcohol, usually grain alcohol, is used in most) so improvisation was key.
The brainstorming began by looking at the other ingredients and the rest was history; when I think of maple syrup, I think of smoke. I find maple syrup has a smoky profile and love the romance that comes with the traditional of boiling sap over an open fire to make syrup (this is now often done by using extreme cold).
With smoke in mind, the only question remaining was, “How do I get it into the glass?” If I had a smoker, I could have smoked water – alas, I do not. The final result is a ‘tea’ made of slightly smoked wood chips that is strained and used sparingly. It is very similar to liquid smoke.
I am fortunate to have a supply of cherry wood shavings. Wood chips would also work for this purpose but the smaller the pieces the better; they have more surface area and smoke easier. Make sure you’re using food-safe wood (i.e. that of a tree, not a pallet).
Two quick words of caution:
- The first part is best done outside. While there isn’t a lot of smoke needed, it’s still smoke.
- Keep a supply of water to the side and do not leave this alone for a minute. Fire follows smoke and you don’t need to go there.
- Wood shavings/ chips (1-2 cups though you can use as much as you want)
- Place the wood in a heavy pot and place over medium-high heat.
- Stir frequently, almost constantly. Best stirring device is metal with an insulated handle or wood – avoid plastic.
- It will eventually start to smoke a little bit at a time. As you stir the mix, the smoke should dissipate as the hotter stuff on the bottom cools in the open air of the top.
- We pulled it off the heat 60-90 seconds after the first smoke appeared.
- Fill container with water (about 1.5 times the volume of the wood) and return to high heat.
- Reduce the mixture as much as you’d like (the more you reduce it, the smokier/ woodier it will taste).
- Strain well and chill before using.
This won’t be a regular feature in our cocktails but is awesome as the occasional flavor enhancer!