5 Smoky Garnishes to Add to Your Cocktail

Matthew Kelly / Supercall
Matthew Kelly / Supercall

While we don’t condone lighting your cocktail on fire (unless it’s absolutely necessary), we do recommend putting a flame to your garnish. Here are five scorched and torched cocktail garnishes that will infuse your drinks with the flavor of fire.

Flamed Orange Peel

This pyrotechnic skill is not only impressive to watch, it also showers your cocktail with delicious, smoky, burnt orange oils. While a flamed orange peel can get lost or muddied in shaken, citrus-forward drinks, it shines in stirred cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac. When using a flamed orange peel, it is best to discard the expressed rind rather than putting into the drink—acrid flavors from the match may linger in the drink.

How to Do It: To flame an orange peel, cut a coin-sized piece of zest from an orange, light a match and express the peel’s oils over the match and into the drink.

Charred Rosemary Sprig or Thyme Sprig

Flaming fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme infuses smoky herbaceousness and aromas into cocktails. Earthy rosemary works magic with scotch—especially in a simple Highball. While torched thyme works wonders with tropical fruits or apple cider.

How to Do It: Ignite the herb, blow it out and dunk it into your drink. If the herb is too green and fresh it might take extra effort to catch on fire.

Smoking Incense

This garnish is all about the aromatics. With hundreds of types of incense available, you can mix and match complex smells with the flavors in a cocktail to create a multi-dimensional sip-and-sniff experience. The heady scent of incense works particularly well in funky tiki drinks. Try Sai Baba Superhit Incense in the arrack-heavy, lost-tiki classic the Shining Path—the spicy, sweet aromas of the incense lighten Arrack Van Osten’s funkiness while highlighting the apricot liqueur in the cocktail. Be forewarned, not everyone likes the smell of incense; if you garnish a cocktail with incense, its smell will fill the room and capture everyone’s attention—for better or for worse.

How to Do It: Light a stick of incense and nestle it into your drink. Make sure any ash lands outside of the cocktail and remove before drinking if necessary.

Flaming Cinnamon Sticks

Although ceylon cinnamon, cinnamon sticks or cinnamon bark can be lit on fire without high proof alcohol, we prefer soaking the spice in 151 rum prior to igniting as it allows the spice to burn longer and keeps it from smoking too much. Dropped into a cocktail or punch, the flaming spice imparts a smoky cinnamon flavor and creates a heavenly, fresh-pie-out-of-the-oven fragrance. This garnish is best used in tiki cocktails, traditional punches, or a Scorpion Bowl.

How to Do It: Pre-soak the cinnamon in 151 rum. Light the cinnamon stick on fire, then drop it into a drink to extinguish the flame.

Burnt Cedar or Sandalwood

Smoking cedar or sandalwood infuses any cocktail with a barbeque flavor and a soft, subtle, woodsy bouquet. Instead of dropping the flaming chips directly into a drink, light a pile of wood, then extinguish it with a glass. That way, you imbue the glass with a deliciously smoky flavor in preparation for a cocktail. Try using a sandalwood-smoked glass for a Negroni or a cedar-smoked glass for a Manhattan.

How to Do It: Create a small pile of wood chips on a plate or fire-proof surface, then light the pile on fire. Smother the burning pile with a cocktail glass and allow the glass to fill with smoke as you prepare your cocktail. When the cocktail is ready, lift the cocktail glass and pour the drink into it.