Master Mixology: Smoky Infusion
Discovery Place Science
Welcome back to Master Mixology with Discovery Place Science! This video series explores the intersection of science, history and alcohol, plus fun adult beverage demonstrations (and non-alcoholic modifications!).
For thousands of years, humans have infused food and drink with smoke. From beer brewing to beef jerky, people love the rich flavors imparted by this unique chemical process.
In this episode of Master Mixology, we explore the science of infusion and smoky beverages before making our own Smoky Sour cocktail. In the content below the video, find more details and recipes included in this episode.
The Infusion Process
Infusion is the process of extracting chemical compounds from a plant (like tea leaves or herbs) to achieve a desired flavor. The plant material is left in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol, and the flavor compounds leach out of the plant to be suspended in the solution.
This happens through the process of osmotic diffusion, where the liquid within the plant experiences a pressure difference from the liquid it is submerged in, passing back and forth through the permeable cell membranes until the pressure equalizes. This is why the hot water used in tea will turn brown as the tea leaves steep.
Smoke is interesting when it comes to flavor because people don’t have the receptors required to taste it!
Smoky flavors come predominantly from your sense of smell interacting with your taste buds. It is estimated that the aroma of food is responsible for as much as 90% of its flavor.
Smoky flavors that taste buds can pick up come from the chemicals syringol and guaiacol, which are released in smoke when plants are burned.
While humans have been smoking meats for thousands of years, smoked liquids are rooted in two key spirits: scotch whisky and mezcal from Mexico.
Smoky flavor in liquid can either be infused by the wood used in the distilling process or added after the fact by a smoke gun or other device.
For whiskey and mezcal, the smoky flavor is derived from the production process. When making scotch whisky, barley is dried by being smoked over peat, while mezcal is made from agave smoked on volcanic rock fire pits.
When using a smoke gun, as we do in our video, the water-soluble chemicals in the smoke dissolve on the ice and condensation on the glass, imparting their smell and taste into the drink.
Did you know? Smoke also acts as a binding agent, smoothing the flavors and balancing many beverages.
Coupe or martini glass
- 2 oz whisky
- 1 oz rosemary-infused honey syrup (recipe below)
- 3-5 fresh blackberries (muddled)
- 1 oz lemon juice
- Smoked lemon wheels (recipe below)
- Sprig of fresh rosemary
- (Optional) Smoke gun
- (Optional) Edible bubbles
- Make the rosemary honey syrup and smoked lemon wheels in advance.
- In a shaker, muddle the blackberries with the rosemary-honey syrup.
- Top with ice and add lemon juice and whisky.
- Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe or martini glass.
- Garnish with a small sprig of rosemary and a smoked lemon wheel.
Rosemary-Infused Honey Syrup
- ½ cup of honey
- ½ cup of sugar
- ½ to 1 cup of water
- 5 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Mesh strainer
- Cut your rosemary into smaller pieces or pluck the leaves from the stem.
- Mix honey, sugar, ½ cup of water and rosemary into a medium saucepan.
- Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until the honey and sugar completely dissolve.
- Reduce heat and let simmer for one minute.
- If your mixture is not as thick as you want it at this point, you may let it simmer for longer. If the consistency is thicker than you want it, you can add up to ½ cup more water.
- Remove from heat and allow the syrup to steep for 30 minutes.
- Pour your syrup into a clean container using a mesh strainer to remove the rosemary leaves.
- Syrup should be stored in the refrigerator and can last up to one month.
Smoked Lemon Wheels
- Cooking sheet
- Smoker (if you do not have a smoker, you can use your oven - link)
- Wood chips (we used hickory)
- Begin preheating the smoker to 280 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut lemons into thin wheels, removing any seeds.
- Place lemon wheels flat on your cooking sheet and place them in the smoker.
- Allow lemon wheels to cook for two hours, flipping periodically.
- If your lemon wheels have not dehydrated after two hours, continue to let them smoke, checking on them in 15-minute increments.
- Serve and enjoy! Garnishes should be refrigerated and can last for up to one month.
(Optional) Smoke-Infused Bubbles!
Products we used:
If you are making smoke-infused bubbles, make sure to coat the rim of your glass in a thin layer of bubble mixture, otherwise, your bubble will pop. Smoke bubbles stick better when your glass is almost full, so you may need to adjust your recipe accordingly or add ice to your drink.
Our smoke gun has an attachment accessory for bubbles that looks like a small funnel. Ensure this accessory is attached to the long hose before turning on your device.
Add your wood chip flavors of choice (we used hickory), turn on the device and ignite! Once you see smoke coming out of the nozzle and the wood chips are glowing embers, turn the device off, dip the nozzle in bubble mixture and turn it back on.
Your bubble will begin filling with smoke. When you are ready, turn the device off again and gently place the bubble on the glass. Instead of pulling the nozzle outwards from the bubble, you want to ensure you are sliding it off to the side (or else the bubble might pop).
Note: Know that the more bubble mixture and smoke you add will greatly affect the taste of the drink.
Serve and enjoy!
Want more Master Mixology? Check out our previous episode, Cheers to 75 Years.