How to make Smoked Ice Cubes

Smoke is a wonderful element in cocktails.  Sometimes it comes baked into your booze – your Islay single malt scotches, your mezcals, your super small batch American craft whiskey that’s been smoked with mesquite.  Sometimes you add that smoke before you make your drink with it – burning spices under your cocktail glass, or smoking the spirits yourself.  

But sometimes, it’s fun to do a little magic trick and add smoke to someone’s cocktail while they’re holding it in their hand.  This spirituous sleight-of-hand, can be achieved by sneaking that smoke right into your ice.

Smoking your WHAT?

That’s right, smoking your ice.  You can hide that smoky flavor inside the ice so it will add complexity as it melts.  

Take an Old Fashioned, for instance.  It’s a lovely drink that takes you on a journey if given the time. It starts as seasoned but barely chilled booze and, as the ice melts, evolves into a light, cool sipper that refreshes and welcomes in the next round.  Now imagine that that ice wasn’t just giving more chill and dilution, but also adding an additional smoky element along the way!

Intrigued? I thought so.

How to Do the Smoking

Now let’s get the most important caveat out of the way first: You’re not actually smoking your ice.  Well, you can start with ice (and indeed some people say this helps the smoke bond to the water as it melts), but you’ll need to keep them in a vessel as they won’t last long in that state.  

Were you to throw some ice cubes directly on a grill with some ribeyes in the hopes of flavoring your drinks later, well, the results will be nothing but steam and smoke flavored air, and that won’t help you make a drink.  

So you don’t smoke the ice, rather, you smoke the water you’ll use to make the ice.  You can think of it as making a tisane, but instead of using dried herbs, you’re using smoke.

Image Credit: Duc Webber, originally posted in the Craft Cocktail Club

How to Smoke Ice (with or without a smoker)

Whether you own a grill smoker or you’re living your best life in an apartment with only a fire escape as a patio, don’t be discouraged – you can still smoke your ice!  

Start with the following equipment:

  • Smoker grill or Smoking gun (I‘ve used this one in the past with a lot of success)
  • Small wood chips or dried herbs
  • Foil pan
  • Plastic wrap (Not needed if you’re using a grill)
  • Fresh air

Prepare your Water

Take your foil pan and fill about half way with very hot tap water (The hotter the better so as to encourage a bit of steam that will interact with the smoke and then condense back into water).  

Prepare your Pan

If you’re using a smoking gun, wrap your pan in plastic wrap, leaving one edge loose but the rest tightly sealed. You can skip this step if you’re using a grill.

Get Smoking

Add your wood chips or dried herbs to the smoking gun or smoker grill and start ‘er up.

  • Smoking gun: Put the tube under the loose edge of plastic wrap and start ‘er up.  Let the pan really get good and dense with smoke before turning off the gun, removing the tube and sealing the loose edge of wrap. 
  • Smoker grill: Put your pan of water in with no wrap on it. Make sure you keep your grill at a low enough temperature that the water isn’t going to boil and turn to steam. (Or you can, of course, use a cold smoker the same way and not worry about the heat.) 

Now, you wait!

  • If you’re working with a smoking gun and wrapped pan, give it a good 90 minutes or so after you’ve sealed it up.  Occasionally give the liquid in the pan a gentle slosh around to get more interactions between liquid and smoke. 
  • On a grill, the smoker will circulate the air for you, encouraging interaction between water and smoke, and you won’t have to wait as long. Aim for about 30 minutes.

Cool & Freeze

After the time is up, take off the plastic wrap and let the smoke out, ideally near an open window.  You should be able to taste the flavor in the water at this point.  Go ahead and put it in your ice cube tray, or better yet a large ice mold.  Allow to freeze, and you’ve got smoked ice!

What do I do with my Smoked Ice? (Hint: Drinks on ice)

Now that you’ve got your ice, there’s a lot you can do with it.  

You can, of course, throw them in your tins with any cocktail and shake or stir them to get some of the smoke flavor immediately into the drink. But if that’s the desired effect, you’re probably better off simply smoking your booze rather than your ice. (Alcohol absorbs flavor more than water and so it’ll take less time to get the smoke flavor directly into your drink up front.)  

When smoked ice really shines is served in a drink.  This lets the flavor seep in over time and can surprise your guests as the drink changes flavors while they enjoy it.  In this way, a Gold Rush or Margarita on the rocks can benefit from a smokiness that grows with time.

Built Drinks

Taking that concept one step further, the most bewitching use of smoked ice is in a drink that’s built on the ice it will be served on.  The Old Fashioned mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this.  

If you build an Old Fashioned in a rocks glass and then briefly stir it with a large cube of smoked ice, the smoke will just start to enter the drink as you start to sip it, giving just a hint of what’s to come.  

Make a few of these for friends and inevitably, someone will say, “you know I like that little bit of smokiness, I just wish there was more of it.”  And you’ll smile and say, “just wait.”

Which Spirits Like Smoke?

In my opinion, the best cocktails to start adding smoked ice to are going to be drinks made with whiskies or other brown spirits, such as aged apple brandies or rums that have some wood influence.  The spirits’ barrel aging will often create an easy affinity with wood smoke.

Thinking Outside the Forest

Just because smoking is usually done with wood doesn’t mean you have to stop there.  Consider smoking dried herbs that you might otherwise pair with your base spirit in a more traditional infusion. If you’re looking for inspiration, just read the tasting notes on your base spirit.

Inspiration: Cocktails with Smoked Ice

Tiny wood chips from different kinds of trees can be easily found online, and these are the ones to start with.  

  • Try burning some maple wood chips for a “BBQ” Old Fashioned.  
  • Consider giving your Vieux Carre a haunted feeling by letting the smoke from oak chips drift off your ice.
  • Or try a “desert” Negroni that’s made with tequila and sits on ice smoked with dried sage. 

Smoking ice may sound like an advanced technique, but hopefully this article has proven that anyone can do it! It’s an easy way to add complexity and surprise your friends with a sneaky extra flavor that creeps into their drink over time. Even as a kid I was warned that “smoking is addictive” – give this technique a try and I think you’ll find they were right!

Rob Rugg-Hinds

Rob Rugg-Hinds is a cocktail bartender. He is passionate about a good Old Fashioned and he will proselytize about a well-balanced Daiquiri. He has two large cats and a passion for rum. When not mixing it up behind the stick, he’s often reading and writing about hospitality and cocktails. Follow on Instagram: @readingbarbooks

About Rob Rugg-Hinds

Rob Rugg-Hinds is a cocktail bartender. He is passionate about a good Old Fashioned and he will proselytize about a well-balanced Daiquiri. He has two large cats and a passion for rum. When not mixing it up behind the stick, he’s often reading and writing about hospitality and cocktails. Follow on Instagram: @readingbarbooks