When you pair up with a barbecue pitmaster, your cocktail menu has the opportunity to bring a little smoke and heat of its own and that’s exactly what Erick Gill of The Smokin’ Oak Pit & Drinkery in Vancouver, Washington, is doing. While his business partner, Bryan Rodgers, churns out Central Texas-style BBQ from the 1,000-gallon and 600-gallon smokers the two men built themselves, Gill presides over a signature cocktail menu designed to complement the flavors.

The Ol’ Smokey cocktail has fast become one of the most popular signature drinks at The Smokin’ Oak.

“In a nutshell, it’s like a smoked Old-Fashioned,” Gill says. “We use High West Campfire blend for a base, a few dashes of our house-smoked bitters and some house-made demerara.”

Campfire is a unique blend of bourbon, rye and scotch with a touch of smoke from the Utah-based distillery. Gill amps up the play on BBQ by torching a bourbon barrel stave, overturning a highball to allow the smoke to encapsulate the glass and serving Ol’ Smokey in the smoked glass. Interestingly, Gill says the idea for the “smoke on smoke” with the cocktail was to see how far he could take the theme. The result was a cocktail with intriguing layers of smoke essence that has become one of The Smokin’ Oak’s most requested and talked about drinks.

Ol’ Smokey pairs well with much of the menu — even the beets with chèvre, stuffed jalapeños and beet salad are smoked — but few items are more quintessential than brisket slathered with a house-made sauce. Gill points out that the rye notes in the blended whiskey bring out a spiciness in the tomato-forward sauce, and the subtle oak smoke and heavy black pepper in the brisket bark beg for the complex smoke profile of Ol’ Smokey.

The Smokin’ Oak makes its own bitters now but, for those attempting to smoke at home, the bar has used a proprietary blend of four parts aromatic bitters to one part barrel-aged bitters, cold smoked (under 100 degrees) in a shallow pan for 45 minutes. Alternatively, a number of online retailers and local makers like Seattle’s E. Smith Mercantile sell smoked bitters.

Ol’ Smokey
Makes 1 cocktail

1 ½ ounces High West Campfire Whiskey
1 bar spoon demerara syrup
4 shakes of house-smoked bitters

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass over one inch of ice for about 10 seconds. Strain into a smoked highball glass over a 2-inch ice cube.