Smoky Martini Cocktail

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…


12 thoughts on “Smoky Martini Cocktail

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    1. Yes, I find that peculiar, too, especially since this is one of my dozen most-read stories. There’s no accounting for some things…

      So anyway: Interesting that CocktailDB shows no “Smoky Martini” at all. In addition to the “Chicago Martini,” it does show the “Dusty Martini”—similar, but very light on the Scotch. “Chicago Martini” is a great name, I like it. I’ll go with that. And add it to the tags.

      Good find, thanks!

  1. Hey, I’ll chime in! I actually really like the name Smoky Martini, but think it should be specified to use only a smoky scotch like Teachers, Johnny Black, or an Islay malt as you’ve mentioned! For some reason I feel like a “Chicago Martini” should feature grape brandy or cognac instead of whisky. Interestingly, I’ve subbed in a splash of Scotch(or Irish) for the usual lime in G&T’s with exceptional results. Don’t even know where to start with naming that one!

  2. so all this makes me want to try something with a bourbon wash, or is that already “a thing”?

    as an aside, Ungava Bay gin creates a uniquely visual Martini experience

    1. Good question, I don’t know if a bourbon wash is already “a thing” or not. Anyway, I’d say give it a try. Thanks for the idea.

      Ungava Bay gin: I have never encountered it.

      1. Sorry to come back so completely off topic: just came home with Carpano Antica thinking that it made a Black Manhattan. Did I cross my wires with one of your other recipes?? Not sure how I got this so messed up …

        1. One place I particularly enjoy Carpano Antica is in the Saratoga, which is very much in the Manhattan model, with half the rye whiskey replaced by brandy. Carpano’s lushness seems just the thing there.

          Carpano also works well in the Negroni, and particularly in the Negroni’s apple brandy cousin, the Normandie.

          Good question—thanks for taking time to comment.

  3. Ungava gin is a Canadian gin, relatively new, made only with ingredients grown in Canada. The previous commenter didn’t mention it specifically, but it has an interesting bright yellow color. It is a decent gin, as New World gins go. Give me Philadelphia Blue any day.

    Also, as someone who loves peat more than anything else in the wide world of liquor, I absolutely support your brother’s recipe. My only change would be to specify more exactly the 10 Year Laphroaig (or if you’re feeling decadent and a bit debauched, Ardbeg Supernova), and Monopolowa Vodka for a more crisp support of the whiskey.

    For those wanting to ease into smoky whiskies, and not sure if they’ll like, try the Irish Connemara or Suntory Hakushu 12 Year Old for whiskies that have a wisp of smoke, and are still excellent if you don’t end up loving it. They also shine in Old Fashioneds made with a tiny bit of orange liqueur to sand off the peat.

    1. I still haven’t encountered the Ungava gin in my region; I’ve seen a couple reviews that made it sound intriguing, though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool London Dry guy. I look forward to tasting it someday.

      I’m with you on the Laphroaig and Ardbeg as smoke and peat sources. I’ve never had the Supernova, I’ll have to work on that.

      The Monopolowa vodka is an interesting suggestion. I’ve not seen it in my liquor stores, but I’ll be watching — I like the idea of something “crisp” to stand against the whiskies.

      Thanks for the ideas!

  4. And sorry for overpowering, but on the subject of whisky “rinses,” Phil Ward of Mayahuel and Death and Co. has invented an excellent Sazerac-inspired drink called a Cooper Union with a Laphroaig rinse, Redbreast Irish Whiskey base, St. Germain, and orange bitters. If there’s one thing Death and Co. taught me, it’s how much peaty Scotch loves citrus.

    1. I’ve seen the Cooper Union in the Death & Co. “cookbook”, but never gotten around to making it. Now you have me interested, and it seems to be cocktail time…

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