One of the delights of the Smoky Martini Cocktail is its accommodating nature. There seems to be no canonical recipe, only a loose ingredients list: gin (or vodka), Scotch (or Irish, blended or single malt), dry vermouth (optional), lemon twist (optional). Here is flavor opportunity broad enough to satisfy the tastes of any Scotch drinker, and even those who do not consider themselves in the Scotch–drinking ranks.

I am surprised that I can’t find the Smoky (or anything like it) in my older cocktail manuals. The earliest listing in my library is from Sally Ann Berk’s 1997 Martini Book; Dale DeGroff also lists it in his 2002 Craft of the Cocktail. It’s not credible to me that no one made this drink before the late ’90s; I suspect it has been around much longer than that, perhaps invented and almost certainly misnamed during the martini exuberance of the 1980s.

The dryness of the Smoky makes it an excellent before–dinner cocktail; it pairs nicely with many hors d’oeuvres like smoked fish and cheeses.

Smoky Martini, photo ©2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Smoky Martini

Most recipes for the Smoky are gin based, and suggest fairly light portions of Scotch. Dale DeGroff’s recipe from Craft of the Cocktail is representative of this model:

Smoky Martini

  • 2½ oz. gin
  • Splash of blended scotch
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Stir with ice until well chilled, strain into a chilled cocktail glass; express and garnish with lemon twist.

This drink works with either gin or vodka as the base; the gin’s effect is more pronounced with lighter whiskies. The gin version is more complex, of course, than the lighter and cleaner tasting vodka version. I had deep misgivings about that gin–and–whisky combination until I tried it; I was delighted to find how well it works in this drink.

If you enjoy more assertive smoke (or something closer to a whiskey drink), you can substitute your favorite peaty single malt Scotch instead of the blended, and bump up the portion to taste. My brother-in-law is firmly in the Islay camp, preferring a version I call Big Smoke:

Big Smoke Cocktail

  • 4 parts Grey Goose vodka
  • 1 part Laphroaig Scotch
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Stir with ice until well chilled, strain into a chilled cocktail glass; express and garnish with lemon twist.

At the lighter end of the spectrum, I’ve had good luck with blended Irish whiskies, which are generally not smoky at all, but definitely malty and “Scotchesque.” Berk (The Martini Book) lists an Irish and vermouth variant, with the obvious but mundane name “Irish Martini”:

Irish Martini
(via Berk)

  • 6 parts buffalo grass vodka
  • 1 part dry vermouth
  • Irish whiskey
  • lemon twist

Rinse a chilled cocktail glass with Irish whiskey. Combine vodka and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and [stir] well. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist.

That’s about as light on the whiskey as you could ever get, I think…

(As for that illiterate name: this drink is pretty well established under the name “Smoky Martini,” and as a practical matter the name is probably unchangeable. It’s possible, I suppose, that if enough people started listing it as the “Smoky Cocktail” that it could unsettle the ground just enough to catch on, but I suspect we’re just stuck with it.)

As djhawaiianshirt notes in the comments, this same recipe has a couple other names: the “Chicago Martini” and the “Dusty Martini.” For some reason, “Chicago Martini” really appeals to me…