On a recent visit to Carruthers in downtown Astoria, the name of one drink off their seasonal bar menu stood out, as it seemed to foresee the persistent ashen sky we have suffered as of late: Smoke on the Water.
While there is no evidence that bar manager David Licitra was prognosticating about wildfires when he named this drink earlier in the season, somewhere between connecting the inherent smokiness of Mezcal to Deep Purple’s seminal 1972 hit rock song (which is very literally about watching a casino burn down over Lake Geneva during a Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention show in Switzerland), Licitra perfected a summer beverage for these particularly dreary, hazy days.
In fact, the way the cocktail was garnished with bright red Korean chili-flake salt, lime slices and cilantro almost made the glass look like a little terrarium of a burning tree set above water.
Where it was once the ugly stepsister of tequila on the U.S. bar scene, Mezcal had been gaining popularity for its small-batch production and intense, deep flavor, closer to Scotch in many ways than tequila. The Cointreau and agave syrup add richness while the housemade watermelon shrub and lime juice offer a little bite. If you don’t have any homemade watermelon vinegar laying around, an extra shot of lime juice should balance things out.
But don’t forget to rim the glass with the chili salt (Korean chili flakes are available at Pat’s Pantry), which builds to offer a nice bit of heat at the end of the glass. Carruthers uses a ratio of about 3-to-1 of kosher salt to chili flake, but feel free to experiment and find your own capsaicin breaking point.
SMOKE ON THE WATER
• 2 ounces Mezcal
• 1 ounce Cointreau, or other orange liqueur
• 1/2 ounce agave syrup
• 1 ounce watermelon shrub
• 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
• Thin slices of lime for garnish
Using water or lime, rim an old-fashioned glass with chili salt. Add liquid ingredients, cilantro and ice to a cocktail shaker. Mix well and strain into rimmed glass. Garnish with lime slices and an extra sprig of cilantro.
—Recipe courtesy of David Licitra, bar manager, Carruthers, Astoria