January 07, 2013
How To Smoke Whiskey
By David Draper
If you want a smoky whiskey, you could just buy a bottle of scotch, right? While that’s true, sometimes life calls for brown liquor with a smoke flavor, but not the aggressive earthiness of a single-malt—particularly if you’re going to be using it to bake cookies. Now you should know me well enough to realize I wouldn’t be making cookies, but my girlfriend T. Rebel was in busy-baking mode just before the holidays and she came to me with a smoked whiskey request for this modified bourbon ball recipe from our friends over at Saveur.
We did a bit of research, scoured our local liquor purveyors and then contacted a friend over in Utah who hooked us up with a bottle of High West Distillery’s Campfire Whiskey. (As a sidenote, the folks at High West are turning out some amazing small-batch libations. I fell in love with the complex spiciness of their Rendezvous Rye this past fall.) The problem, it’s just too darn good to sacrifice even two tablespoons of it for cookies. In fact, the day it came in the mail, addressed to T. Rebel, she let me have one sip then promptly hid the bottle from me. (The girl really likes her Old Fashioneds.)
If she wasn’t going to share, I decided to make my own smoked whiskey, as I was running the Smoke Vault that weekend anyway, smudging up some venison knackwurst. Since this would just be an experiment, I didn’t go too big on either the quality or quantity. A traveler of Jim Beam would do just fine. I figured I needed a lot of surface area to catch the smoky flavor, so I poured it into an oversized disposable pan (a little bigger than a loaf pan) and set it on the top shelf of the smoker. After about an hour under heavy hickory smoke, I pulled the pan and let it cool before taking a sip.
While it’s not High West, the resulting concoction is interesting. In fact, it’s a different kind of smokiness from the Utah distillery’s Campfire version, which has the suggestion of peatiness from blending in some scotch whisky along with the rye and bourbon. The burnt Beam holds just a hint of woodiness with the bourbon’s caramel flavoring tempering the bitterness of the smoke, though it does have a slight bite. Next time, I think I’d pull it off the smoke about 10 to 15 minutes earlier. I’d also like to try some sweeter woods, such as cherry, alder, or even pecan.