I hope you still have some of the “Devil Mix” from Johnny Michaels’s Handsome Devil, because we need some for the Future Ghost.

Michaels describes the Future Ghost as “a Sazerac-Manhattan hybrid, served in a bordeaux wineglass.” It is another of the music-inspired cocktails from his 2012 Northstar Cocktails.

Built on the same bourbon and Devil Mix base as the Handsome Devil, the Future Ghost adds vermouth and wine—and smoke.

The blending of bourbon, Devil Mix and claret makes the Future Ghost a remarkably complex flavor mix. As we saw in the Handsome Devil, it expresses the oak, chocolate and caramel of the whiskey, and the sweetness and red-pepper heat of the Devil Mix. But it rounds and softens the flavors with the grape and dark fruit of the wine and the extra herbal notes of the vermouth.

The Future Ghost Cocktail, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Future Ghost

The Future Ghost’s signature is a smoky, wormwood-tinged nose. The smoked absinthe, misted into the glass, is an evocation of the ethereal, “…half in this world, half in his own.”

Here’s the way Michaels makes it:

The Future Ghost Cocktail
Johnny Michaels, La Belle Vie, Minneapolis

  • 3 oz Jim Beam Black Bourbon
  • ½ oz Devil Mix
  • ½ oz Noilly Prat sweet vermouth (M&R Rosso)
  • ½ oz big red wine
  • 1 spray pine smoke absinthe

“Spray inside of Bordeaux wineglass with pine smoke absinthe. To a Boston tin with maybe 1 to 1½ inches of  ice, add remaining ingredients and lightly swirl-chill a bit and then strain into glass, right into the bottom. You don’t want to wash the inside walls of the glass clean.”

Like the Sazerac, the Manhattan or the Old-Fashioned, the Future Ghost is one of those inventions that can stand all sorts of adjustments and still end up a fair approximation of the original. Which is a good thing, since there are so many variables, like the intensity of the Devil Mix’s red pepper tincture, the smokiness of the smoked absinthe, even your choice of wine.

The smoked absinthe is easy to make, and presents an opportunity for fine-tuning. Michaels makes it with “13 drops pine smoke extract” in 2 ounces of absinthe. His smoke must be much more concentrated than mine—I need more like a half teaspoon per ounce of absinthe to get the nose just right. You want to keep the absinthe in the forefront—Michaels modeled the Future Ghost on the Sazerac, after all—but you want enough smoke in the mix so that it just starts to come forward over the absinthe’s anise and wormwood.

Smoking the Future Ghost Cocktail (detail). Photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.If your grocery is like mine, you will find no pine smoke extract; your search engine is your best tool for tracking down this ingredient. If you’re in a hurry, hickory-scented Liquid Smoke makes a serviceable and much more readily available substitute. The Liquid Smoke is not particularly concentrated, so you may want to add considerably more than “13 drops” to get the right level of smokiness.

(As for spritzing the smoke, Michaels recommends that you just use the cheap spray bottles from the beauty supply section of your drug store. As he puts it, “…once you put absinthe and pine smoke extract into something, you will never be able to use it for anything else, ever. It will be there until its atoms are scrambled by a nuclear event.”)

The smoky nose is the key to the drink, the imagining of the intangible, so it’s worth the effort to get the smoked absinthe mix right, according to your tastes.

I’ve made the Future Ghost with Beam Black and Weller’s Antique 107 bourbons; both are high-proof whiskies, and I suspect that’s a good strategy for this drink. There are a lot of moving parts in this drink, lots of flavor components; higher ABV helps the whiskey to stand up to the crowd.

“…chilling can emasculate whiskey…”

In Northstar Cocktails, Michaels observes that “Bourbon drinks sometimes taste better when they’re a little warmer, and chilling can emasculate whiskey, so this one gets chilled, but not too much.” It’s not often that you see consideration of how much to chill a drink.

I have limited experience mixing cocktails with red wine—it seems that the Future Ghost is only the second cocktail I’ve written about that includes wine, and I have much to learn. In this case, I experimented with an inexpensive claret, and with a Côtes-du-Rhône, and with a nice shiraz. All worked well; the shiraz (Mollydooker Boxer) was the best.

The Handsome Devil, which is at the core of this drink, is all about whiskey and heat; the Future Ghost, with its wine, herbs and smoke, is softer, more subtle, a complex and contemplative cocktail. Just right for the fall season.