Ceci n’est pas une pipe

Pipe smoker's Manhattan

The nanny statists in Oregon have declared that smoking a pipe is henceforth illegal in the few cigar bars that survived the smoking ban intact. Now what am I going to do with all my pipe tobacco? Work it into a drink, of course! It’s not illegal if it’s not fire.

This month’s Mixology Monday theme is “new horizons,” in which A Mixed Dram encourages us to try a technique or ingredient we’ve never used before. I’d actually planned on posting something other than what I’m posting now, but that particular experiment is still in the works. Instead I tried my hand this weekend at flavoring liquor with smoke.

My friend David Barzelay suggested the method: put wood, leaves, or tobacco in a large pot, set them smoking, insert liquor in an elevated, smaller pan, and then place a lid on the whole thing for half an hour. I decided to try this with pipe tobacco and sweet vermouth with the goal being a sort of smokers’ Manhattan. (Why not smoke the bourbon? Because bourbon costs three times as much as the vermouth and I didn’t want to ruin it. I can already see Caleb cringing at the thought of molesting his favorite spirit that way.)

Unfortunately I was a little short on the necessary equipment. My large pot with lid was in the service of soup at the time, so I had to use a smaller one. And not having a pan small enough to fit in that pot I had to instead use a vegetable steamer with a steel bowl laid inside it. I didn’t actually own a vegetable steamer so I had to buy one. That I finally bought a vegetable steamer not for cooking vegetables but for adding tobacco to liquor tells you everything you need to know about my personal habits. Take out that life insurance policy on me now, folks.

The process was pretty straightforward. I added a layer of aluminum foil to the pot to protect it from the tobacco (probably unnecessary) and set the stove to high heat until the leaves started smoking. Then I turned down the heat and dropped in the steamer and bowl with 6 ounces of vermouth. I put on the lid and after a few minutes turned the heat off entirely and let it rest for 30 minutes. The first run didn’t impart quite enough flavor, so I ended up repeating this with one more 10 minute smoking period.

This worked out decently well in a Manhattan, with the flavor of the tobacco coming through in a balanced cocktail. It also came with a thicker mouthfeel and slightly sour aftertaste. I’m not sure if that’s the result of tar from the tobacco or heat damage to the vermouth. I’d have to experiment with a larger pan that dissipates heat better or with cold smoking to know for sure. In any case, adding a bit of unaltered vermouth fixed things up. So now when the Oregon smoking cops come around, I can mix up a Ceci n’est pas une Pipe to evade detection:

2 oz bourbon (Bulleit)
.75 oz smoked sweet vermouth
.25 oz sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat)
2 dashes Fee Brothers’ old fashioned bitters

If I keep experimenting with this I want to use cold smoking, either with a device like Lance has at 50 Plates or this smoking gun that Barzelay pointed out to me. For now, though, I’m glad to have a new technique at my disposal, even if I don’t keep using it exactly in this manner. Thanks to A Mixed Dram for hosting this month and to David for spurring on a new idea.


3 thoughts on “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”

  1. Just saw your comment about the pipe. It got caught in my blog’s spam filter for some reason. The pipe is a Savinelli. Best of all, it was free! The company gave it to my friend who works at a cigar store as a sample. You can’t see them in the picture, but there are a couple small spots in the wood that are filled with putty. Those are minor defects though, and I love the overall style of the pipe.

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