Q: Hi Hanna! I was wondering if you could possibly help me locate a drinking/dining establishment in the greater Charleston area which serves barside-prepared smoked bourbon cocktails? I was recently in Louisville and enjoyed this experience at one of their many speakeasy-type lounges.
I have called several likely downtown places to no avail; the closest I came was a bar that could add Liquid Smoke flavoring to their drinks, but I am seeking the full theatrical experience of a portable smoker, complete with flames, LOL!
A: In defense of our fine cocktail bars that don’t keep smoking cloches at the ready, I should say I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of tabletop smoking. I figure a spirit would benefit from the flavor of smoke, the distiller has already seen to including it. I’m more likely to ask for Scotch or mezcal than summon props when the mood for smoky overtones strikes.
But I appreciate that a good show can make a drink seem more magical, so I was determined to find you a local cocktail held in a smoke-filled dome before serving. Unfortunately, my initial inquiries were as fruitless as yours. (Speaking of fruit, some bartenders prefer torched citrus slices as a smoke conveyance. But that doesn’t look as impressive on an Instagram feed.)
So it’s not an exaggeration to say I was overjoyed when, following a day of failed searching, I slunk dejectedly away from my desk to Wild Common for my first review visit and found a smoked Manhattan on its cocktail menu. Talk about improbable.
Jamie Gnazzo, the restaurant’s publicist, later detailed the drink for me. It’s made with Old Overholt, Cocci Torino sweet vermouth and bitters, which is where the recipe would typically end. But the Wild Common team wanted to evoke Carolina barbecue, so the added step involves trapping smoke in an empty cocktail glass overturned atop a table for 15-30 seconds before pouring the prepared cocktail into it.
At no point is there open fire at the table. But you will get the thrill of a mini blowtorch’s blue flame (and a decent drink to boot.) Enjoy!