Capturing the flavors, scents and feels of a stiff drink served in a Prohibition-era speakeasy is Thyme to Smoke, a Left Coast Kitchen & Cocktails concoction that would get Al Capone’s approval.
The popular gastropub in Merrick uses gin as the base spirit for its “classic feel” and green tea-infused white rum to modernize the cocktail. Just mix in sweetener, citrus, its namesake herb and add fire.
“The Thyme to Smoke has actually been on the menu now for a few months because it is wildly popular,” says Matt Klapper, the bar manager at Left Coast. “People have been really responding well to it. Part of it is also because there’s a little bit of a show involved.”
Gin, which derives its predominant flavor from juniper berries, peaked in popularity during the ’20s since it masked the flavor of poorly distilled alcohol. The green tea- infused white rum is prepared in-house.
“We’ll cold infuse for a few hours,” he says. “You don’t want to let it go too long because then you’re going to get the tannic flavor from the green tea. You don’t want to get the tannins.”
When time’s up, he removes the tea bags and pours the liquid into another bottle. There’s no need to “go too crazy or craft with an infusion,” he says.
Next, the freshly squeezed lemon juice “brightens everything up,” pulling Thyme to Smoke’s ingredients together within the cocktail shaker’s walls.
Of course, Thyme to Smoke would be missing a key ingredient without thyme. Sprigs are dropped into the shaker with everything but a sweetener. Adding turbinado syrup sweetens up the drink a bit. For him, the added sweetness helps the boozy cocktail with maintaining its overall equilibrium.
Despite his initial idea of adding absinthe to the recipe, he settled on green chartreuse, which has “a very unique flavor,” and it’s absolutely delicious.
“I was considering absinthe,” he says, but he ruled it out. “I think that’s kind of overdone these days with a lot of craft cocktail bars.”
To him, the addition of green chartreuse gives the drink the same effect (the same feel, to be exact) he sought.
“You go to the green chartreuse to add an element of, again, something that’s a little more off the beaten path that maybe not everybody knows,” he says. “But if they’re adventurous, willing try it, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised that something they never saw before or are familiar with winds up being as delicious as it is.”
The French liqueur is flammable, which Left Coast’s bar manager took into consideration, not for the “wow” factor, but as a way to fortifythe cocktail.
“You got to make sure that everything you do is improving the cocktail,” he says. “I figured, let’s throw some thyme in there… for the sake of adding flavor to the cocktail, enhancing it, creating a little more depth and complexity — and set it on fire with the green chartreuse.”
What happens next: The fire, set by a wooden match, continues to char the thyme sprigs until the contents from within the shaker are poured out over the fire to extinguish the flame. To catch thyme chunks, the glass is then strained over ice into a highball glass. The smoked thyme is used as garnish.
“That way when you’re bringing the cocktail to your lips you also get the aromatic of that smoked thyme,” he says. “You can just smell it in the whole restaurant. It’s a really, really wonderful ambiance creator.”