Faraway Plains

After first setting eyes on a Smoking Gun at Apogee Lounge, one of the most imaginative bars in Chicago, I knew I'd eventually need to add one to my arsenal of mixology toys. Quite conveniently, the maker Breville reached out and offered to provide me with one in exchange for participating in a virtual holiday "mix-off" along with 9 other influential bartenders and mixologists. Getting the opportunity to play with a new medium made me want to take my cocktail creation in a completely different direction from anything I'd done before.

I selected Japanese whiskey and sherry to form the backbone of my cocktail. Both are ingredients that are praised in modern cocktails yet I had only tried them when going out for drinks. I quickly found that Japanese whiskeys come in quite a range of prices and flavor notes but Kikori Whiskey seemed like a particularly intriguing option to mix with. Made entirely from rice and aged in sherry casks, Kikori feels like a mash-up of the best attributes of sak√© and more traditional whiskey. It's a wonderfully unique addition to the world of whiskey and features a floral aroma with a caramel smooth finish. 

I also learned that sherries come in many varieties, each of which boast a unique flavor profile. Sherry is defined as Spanish fortified wine crafted in the region surrounding the city of Jerez de la Frontera (the word "sherry" stems from "Jerez"). Within that category, the wines vary from very dry to sweetened and have undergone different degrees of aging and oxidization. I chose the Manzanilla variety which falls on the drier end of the spectrum and was named with the Spanish word for chamomile tea due to flavor similarities. 

I played up the floral notes in the whiskey and manzanilla sherry with fragrant fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice and a wildflower honey syrup. The honey syrup balanced the dryness of the sherry, and the Meyer lemon juice tied the other ingredients together with a touch of pleasant acidity. 

The coolest thing about using the Smoking Gun in creating a cocktail is that you can fill it with a number of different wood chips, dried herbs or dehydrated fruit. This allows you to enhance the drink's flavors by engaging the sense of smell and truly takes the cocktail to the next level. I used applewood chips and dried chamomile flowers to smoke this drink. The applewood chips created a sweeter, fruity smoke and were a perfect match for the floral sweetness of chamomile. As a sidenote, I highly recommend getting dried chamomile flowers in bulk instead of buying it in teabag form - it's cheaper, more flavorful and lovely for garnishing!

The resulting cocktail is a bouquet of flavors unlike any I've enjoyed before - it starts out with a bit of floral dryness, transitions to the creamy smoothness of the honey and whiskey and finishes with a touch of sweet smoke.

Faraway Plains

  • 2 oz Kikori Japanese Rice Whiskey
  • 0.5 oz Manzanilla Sherry
  • 0.5 oz wildflower honey syrup*
  • 0.25 oz fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • Dried chamomile and applewood chips, for smoke
  • Fresh chamomile flowers, for garnish

Add first four ingredients to a mixing glass over ice and stir until chilled. Cover mixing glass with a julep strainer so only the spout is exposed. Insert the tube of the smoke gun through the mixing glass spout. Place a light covering of applewood chips and dried chamomile in the burn chamber of the smoke gun, ignite, and use the higher fan setting to fill the mixing glass with smoke. Once filled, remove the smoke gun tube from the mixing glass, change the orientation of the julep strainer so the handle covers the spout and allow for the cocktail to infuse with smoke for several minutes. Give the mixing glass a swirl and strain the contents into a Japanese tea cup or punch glass. Garnish with fresh chamomile flowers. 

* To make wildflower honey syrup, add 1:1 parts wildflower honey and almost boiling water to a leak-proof glass jar and shake until honey is dissolved. Open jar to allow syrup to cool and store excess in the fridge for up to 1 month. 

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and Breville for the Smoking Gun.