Smoke has long been a key element in the bartender’s arsenal, delivered though a measure of mezcal or a flamed orange peel. Some experiment with smoking glasses: using burning herbs, say, or wood chips, and then capturing the resulting smoke within the vessel. Others smoke the cocktail ingredients: New York City bartender Eben Freeman famously smoked a Coca-Cola syrup back in 2007; it’s still on the menu at The Butterfly, carbonated and fortified with Michter’s Rye.
As NPR recently reported, bartenders have taken up incorporating tobacco, too, with tobacco-infused simple syrup at Father’s Office in Los Angeles and tobacco bitters at Bar Charley in Washington, D.C.. So it was only a matter of time before actual tobacco smoke appeared in a cocktail. You’ll find one such tobacco-smoked invention at Blue Hound, an American restaurant and craft cocktail bar in Phoenix, where head bartender Stephanie Teslar coats rocks glasses with the stuff.
Harnessing the rich, earthy flavor of tobacco in a palatable way can be tricky. But by capturing the aroma in the drink, rather than incorporating a sizable portion of tobacco itself, the sensation hits the nose rather than the palate. “The olfactory sense determines your whole perception of a cocktail,” Teslar says. “And with such strong flavors [like tobacco], you might not want them in the drink itself very strongly, especially if they’re tannic or overly aggressive.”
After experimentation with different flavors and types, Teslar settled on using vanilla pipe tobacco. When the cocktail’s ordered, she lights the tobacco on a skillet, allows it to start smoking, cups it with a chilled double rocks glass and lets the smoke diffuse for five to ten seconds. Caught in a cold environment, the smoke cools and disperses slowly, almost clinging to the glass.
The technique perfected, Teslar began working on the accompanying cocktail, and dubbed it “Lawless” in tribute to local Phoenix business, Lawless Denim. With the name as an inspiration, she wanted the drink to capture a “fugitive on the run” sort of feeling, a sense of transgression in the ingredients and in the overall flavor impact. So she wondered, what plays well with tobacco? Bourbon. Her bourbon of choice: St. George’s Breaking & Entering. (“I love the bourbon itself, but the name fit right in.”) What other flavor conjures the illicit? Wormwood, the primary botanical in absinthe, long-alleged to have psychotropic effects. “It’s been thought to be a little crazy and outrageous. So I went with Bäska Snaps Malört”—a wormwood-infused, Swedish style aquavit—whose “bitterness adds an edge to the cocktail.” Finally, she blended the flavors together using her “truck stop bitters,” which incorporate everything one might pick up at a rest stop: coffee, tobacco and a candy bar (which is represented with cocoa).
The finishing component is, of course, genuine tobacco smoke. “I don’t I want it to taste like tobacco, so much,” Teslar stresses. Rather, “it should make you feel like you just smoked a cigar, and now you’re having a drink. It’s that ‘drink and a smoke’ feeling—only you can’t take a cigar into a bar anymore.” True, but Teslar’s whiskey and tobacco combination might just be the next best thing.