Today we’re mixing the Smoke and Mirrors cocktail because, well, March 29 is National Smoke and Mirrors Day. Of course the phrase “smoke and mirrors” is used to denote obscuring or embellishing the truth of some situation by use of misleading or irrelevant information. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Or at least not in a pejorative fashion.
National Smoke and Mirrors Day is meant to celebrate magic, the art of deception which, at least today, amazes and delights. Lucky for us there is a Smoke and Mirrors cocktail. Actually, there are several drinks going by that name. Some are quite complicated and various base spirits are used. We’ve selected a simple one that’ll give you something to do with Aquavit other than taking sips between bites of gravlax.
National Smoke and Mirrors Day
The origin of National Smoke and Mirrors Day is unclear, but its purpose of celebrating the magical arts is. Magic has been around for thousands of years – there are cave drawings from Ancient Egypt depicting the still-current cups and balls routine. There weren’t any three-card Monte hustlers in Times Square back then, but the art of trickery was alive.
Magic kept going through the Greek and Roman empires. Even survived the Dark Ages. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that it developed as a popular act. Whether circus sideshow or on its own stage the magician was a welcome performer.
Whether it was a stone eater, a mind reader, a troupe of singing mice or learned pigs, magic varied from sleight of hand to elaborate tricks that actually did involve smoke and mirrors. The smoke and mirrors, however, didn’t really enter the scene until a hidden light projector was invented. Around 1770 Johann Georg Schropfer utilized such a projector to bounce light off mirrors and through smoke to convince people they were seeing conjured spirits. Yeah, let’s face it – easier marks in those days.
All of this has been further developed, but the basic skills of the magician, such as storytelling and misdirection along with sleight of hand, have remained constant over time.
Smoke and Mirrors Cocktail
The Smoke and Mirrors cocktail falls into the camp of Negroni variations. This is a large family of drinks, many of which we’ve covered during Negroni Week. This one was created by Neil Kopplin at Clyde Commons in Portland, Oregon.
The Smoke and Mirrors recipe uses Aquavit as the base spirit. Aquavit, if you’re not familiar with it, is pretty much the Nordic version of gin. The key difference is in the botanicals used to flavor it. Gin, of course, relies largely on juniper, citrus and other spices such as coriander. Aquavit, by contrast, is dominated by caraway or dill but often shares botanicals like coriander with gin. It’s a big part of the Nordic drinking culture, where it makes appearances at holidays and other special events.
Hewing to the Mr. Potato Head school of bartending, Mr. Kopplin first made a common change – replacement of the base spirit. We see this often, an example being the Boulevardier which is really a Negroni made with bourbon instead of gin. Here we use aquavit. Kopplin went one step further by replacing sweet vermouth with Cynar. Imagine a caraway-infused Negroni and you won’t be far off.
The recipe calls for a flamed orange peel garnish, which is great for entertaining guests. We’ve covered how to do it with other drinks like the Hoskins cocktail, but include instructions in the recipe below.
Smoke and Mirrors Cocktail
- Matches or lighter
- 1¼ oz Aquavit
- 1¼ oz Campari
- ¾ oz Cynar
- Garnish: flamed orange peel.
- Cut piece of orange peel about 1.5 inches long and 1 inch wide.
- Add aquavit, Campari and Cynar to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled Nick and Nora glass.
- Flame orange peel: Hold the peel gently by its edges, light the match, and hold the match between the peel and the drink. In one motion squeeze the peel while moving it closer to the flame such that a spray of orange oil passes through the flame and ignites, leaving a little slick of caramelized orange oil floating atop your drink. Discard the peel, it has given its all.