Today's cocktail: Poor Man's Dopesmoker

Today's ingredients: bourbon, scotch, agricole rum, black tea, brown sugar, Angostura bitters

I hadn't planned on attempting a version of the cocktail that got me interested in craft cocktails in the first place, at least not this soon. Maybe after a year or two of dabbling and mixing and experimenting, I might feel a little better about the exercise. However, a website where I syndicate this blog put a call out for posts about favorite whiskey cocktails. I've had a few staples like Bitter Devils, Old Fashioneds, hot toddies, Rusty Nails, Godfathers, and others. They've all been good in some fashion, some better than others. However, so far, there is only one true front-runner on my all-time list of favorite whiskey cocktails.

Now, I admit that I tend to romanticize things. I'll often get it stuck in my head that something is simply the best thing ever. A lot of it has to do with context. For example, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in town happens to be a franchise, but every time I've gone, I've had a good-to-great time, been with people I enjoy (no small feat), and waddled away stuffed and satisfied. I know there are more-authentic places around, but this particular restaurant just holds a lot of memories for me, plus they do a pretty respectable job at southern Italian cuisine (I can say that because, in a previous life, I produced a radio cooking show and got to tour back-of-house as they prepped for the day; very impressive work they do).

If you, for some reason, plowed through the About treatise elsewhere on this site, you may have come across the genesis of my interest in craft cocktails. Courtesy of The Whistler in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, the Dopesmoker, which only makes occasional appearances on the menu, just happened to be available during my last trip to the city. Finding the ingredients was easy--even if it's off-menu, plenty of other people have chronicled its existence:

  • Old Heaven Hill bonded bourbon (specific age unknown)
  • Laphroaig scotch (specific shade unknown)
  • Duqusne Rhum Agricole (aka agricole rum)
  • Lapsang Souchong (a black tea)
  • Demerara (brown sugar)
  • chocolate bitters ('nuf said)

(To be fair, that last run to Chicago was just a massive confluence of good timing: one day of cold weather followed by temperatures warm enough that I had to buy a pair of shorts; the waning days of Hot Doug's, who happened to be serving a shrimp-and-grits sausage dog (and it was excellent); of course, The Whistler; and the Cubs were in town, which is more like going to a mall than a ballgame, but whatever.)

Anyway, let's see what happens.

Poor Man's Dopesmoker

So, we have an ingredients list. Cool. Whether or not we could find all this stuff, there still remained the issue of the exact versions of the liquors involved, to say nothing of the relative amounts. This is where experimentation took over:


Round 1

  • 0.5oz Woodford Reserve (my on-hand mixing bourbon)
  • 0.5oz Cask Islay scotch (nice and smoky/peaty)
  • 0.5oz Neisson rhum agricole blanc (white agricole rum)
  • 0.5oz Trader Joe's decaf Irish breakfast tea (I had mango black tea but didn't want the citrus influence)
  • 0.25tsp brown sugar
  • dash Angostura bitters

The tea was still warm from brewing, so I chucked a big ice ball in there to cool it down with (hopefully) minimal melting. As a warm drink, the scotch really came out; at room temperature, most of the ingredients carried a nice balance (the bourbon was missing throughout); as a cold and slightly diluted drink, the rum took center stage. Also, that was nowhere near enough sugar, so for the next batch:


Round 2

  • 0.5oz Hirsch reserve small batch bourbon
  • 0.5oz Cask Islay scotch
  • 0.5oz Neisson rhum agricole blanc
  • 0.5oz Trader Joe's decaf Irish breakfast tea
  • 1tsp brown sugar
  • dash Angostura bitters

The tea had cooled to room temperature by this point, and this was by far the best effort of the afternoon. The bourbon swap nailed the missing oakiness. The extra sugar both balanced out the bitters and enhanced the molasses notes of the rum. However, as it cooled, the balanced shifted toward the rum, leaving the whiskies behind. The original Dopesmoker was served slightly chilled, so getting the right flavor at the right temperature was still a challenge.

Round 3 was just like Round 2, only with now-chilled tea, so the whole drink was cold-ish to start, and yes, it was mostly rum notes. I considered doubling up the scotch, but I worried that it would overpower the otherwise decent balance of flavors. As it warmed, the scotch returned. You may also notice that chocolate did not make an appearance here. I had some cocoa powder around, but I didn't want to muddy the drink--I was having a hard-enough time getting the brown sugar to dissolve.


At this point, I had to suspend the experiment due to teetering on the edge of being hammered. Further research is needed and should include some of the following tweaks: some infusion of chocolate essence, perhaps a real peat-monster of a scotch like an Ardbeg 10 or Laphroaig 10 (if the drink must be chilled), and/or a more readily available yet potent bourbon like Rittenhouse or Whistle Pig. The rum did its job, as did the tea (I think), the sugar, and the bitters. Maybe one of these days, I'll pull together the official ingredients and run through this exercise again. Until then, I declare Round 2 at room temperature to be the closest approximation of my so-far favorite whiskey cocktail of all-time.