The Science Behind Smoked Cocktails

The Science Behind Smoked Cocktails

How Smoke Changes the Way Your Cocktail Tastes, Smells, & More

Super-stacked bloody marys were the cocktail icons of the 2010s. We saw everything from bacon & cheese to chicken wings & pizza hanging from the rims of those spicy red brunch bombs. While today’s trends still crave the “Instagram-worthy” stamp of approval, they err more on the sophisticated side.

Enter: the smoked cocktail.

Pick up a drink menu at just about any bar in town, and it’s likely headlined by the smoked old-fashioned. Though it may be the trendiest, it’s just one of many cocktails enhanced by a high-quality smoke infusion. Think: Rum-based libations, Manhattans, Mezcal Margaritas, and more. What makes smoke such a delicious accoutrement? Science, baby! In this article, we’ll explore how smoked cocktails leverage the science of taste, smell, and aesthetics to craft a multi-sensory drinking experience.

Taste: As in, this drink tastes like I’m the life of the party.

The type of wood used, your cocktail’s ingredients, and the length of time the smoke is trapped within the glass all play into your final drinking experience. But independent of these factors, the scientific processes behind smoked cocktails remain the same:

When you toast your wooden smoking board (or saucer), the wood’s amino acids and reducing sugars break down by a process called a Maillaird Reaction. This reaction deepens the flavor compounds of the wood, and the resulting smoke holds these flavors within it. Trap this smoke in your glass, and the cocktail will absorb the flavors and enhance the overall taste of your drink.

Smell: As in, this drink smells like I’m booking a trip to Maui.

Smoking Saucer Set - Spirits With Smoke Inc -The arrival of a newly smoked cocktail is unmissable. You’ve likely sensed its entrance from a few seats down the bar just by your nose alone. But fragrant aromas are not the only way smell plays into the overall smoked cocktail experience. Your sense of smell also impacts the way you taste your cocktail:

A whopping 80% of what we taste is actually thanks to our sense of smell! When sensory cells in your nose detect odors, they send neural messages to the brain. At the same time, the sensory cells in your mouth send messages to the brain based on what they detect. All of this information integrates to process, recognize, and ultimately, appreciate the smoked cocktail experience.

Aesthetics: As in, this drink looks like the best night of my life.

There’s a reason people say “don’t judge a book by its cover” when they want you to try something new. Because as visual creatures, making assumptions based on looks is one of our first instincts. And the smoked cocktail trend leans directly into this human propensity:

The tendrils of smoke that climb out of a freshly smoked cocktail capture your attention and contribute one final element to the sensory experience: visual appeal (aka aesthetics). Ooo and ahh with your barmate, take a video for social media, and smile in delight as bystanders whisper “what are they drinking??” No one can dismiss the aesthetic appeal of a smoked cocktail. And there are numerous studies that back us up on this, too: pretty stuff just tastes better.

Conclusion: As in, it’s 5 ‘o'clock somewhere.

The trendiness of smoked cocktails is due, not to chance, but to the predictable science of taste, smell, and aesthetics. And no matter what your personal preferences are, smoked cocktails are for anyone who’s craving a heightened drinking experience. Now take your newfound scientific prowess and experiment with your own smoked cocktails at home:

To get started, check out our locally sourced Starter Smoked Cocktail Kit and Smoking Saucer Set. They include almost everything you need to craft smoked cocktail experiences from the comfort of your own home. (You provide the booze, the rest is in the box.)