Char Your Bar this Labor Day

Chef Ryan Urig doing his thing with fire and smoke. Image: Fire It Up / Grand Wailea

On July 7, the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria hotel and resort on Maui, hosted Fire It Up, which highlighted the culinary creativity of the resort with a live-fire food, wine, beer and bourbon event showcasing Hawaiian ingredients cooked exclusively with fire.

The resort’s culinary team—as well as top chefs and pitmasters from around the country—brought their roasting, grilling, charring and smoking A-game. And because great barbecue begs for the perfect beverage (especially when you are tending smokers and grills around the clock), these BBQ stars shared what’s in their glass when they’re fueling the fire.

John Toigo, beverage manager and sommelier for the Grand Wailea, says pineapple is one of the most traditional ingredients to char, but he actually prefers putting it in a smoker, after which “it goes well with similarly intense flavors [like] a mezcal-based Margarita or tiki-inspired whiskey drink.”

For the Smoking Lady, Toigo shakes Bozal Mezcal with lime, pineapple and habanero bitters. The drink is garnished with smoked pineapple dusted in black Hawaiian sea salt.
Read this: Pineapple Flexes its Flavor Muscles

The main benefit to grilling fruits for cocktails is what the technique does to sugar, Toigo explains. “The slight caramelization of sugars makes the ingredient much sweeter,” he says. “You can either enhance that flavor [with] more sugar or balance it with acid and spice.” As with pineapple and peaches, charring the soft meat inside a coconut can coax out more sweetness; blended and mixed with rum and pineapple, it makes for a very cool Piña Colada.

Its inherent sweet and smoky character—gleaned from its mash bill of at least 51% corn and time spent in new charred white oak barrels—makes bourbon a no-brainer to sip with anything cooked on the fire. Drinking it neat or on the rocks can be an easy strategy, as can mixing it with ingredients that ramp up or tone down a bourbon cocktail’s acidity, bitterness or sweetness.

Read this: Barrel-aged and Smoked: Deliver Sophisticated Cocktail Trends on a Budget

“Think of the difference between a Whisky Sour and a Manhattan; one tart and sweet, the other boozy and rich,” Toigo says. Select the former to offset the richness of sweet barbecue sauces, and the latter to balance the high acidity of vinegar-based sauces.

Toigo is partial to classic Texas barbecue, which is smoky, meat-driven, spicy and caramelized without being sweet. His bourbon-based Heavens Half Acre cocktail uses the classic Tiki elements of pineapple and nutmeg and a splash of Yellow Chartreuse for herbaceousness to match the flavors. Executive sous chef Jorge Gonzalez smokes and grills spare ribs slathered in a sauce made with POG, that beloved Hawaiian mixture of pineapple, orange and guava juices. A splash of that juice can also give a Whiskey Sour a tropical slant, while muddled passion fruit can make a Manhattan tangier.

Read this: Meet the Scotch Master Overseeing a $3 Million Whisky Inventory

But it’s not just grilled meat that can benefit from a little bourbon on the side. At the Grand Wailea, chef de cuisine Mike Lofaro roasts local Kualoa Ranch oysters, floats a little Buffalo Trace Bourbon on top, and serves them with a variety of mignonettes like charred scallion cherry and smoked ponzu. On the side might be bourbon infused with grapefruit peel and shiso, the Japanese broad-leafed herb that’s like a cross between mint and basil.

Grab that charcoal and lighter fluid—it’s time to usher out summer with smoke.

The Smoking Lady cocktail at Grand Wailea by John Toigo

The Smoking Lady

Recipe courtesy of John Toigo, Beverage Manager / Sommelier; Image: Grand Wailea

“You get an intense whiff of hickory smoke from the garnish, spice and smoke from the mezcal, and bitters and a lovely sweetness from the juice,” he points out.

  • 1 ½ oz. Bozal Mezcal
  • ¾ oz. Lime juice
  • 1 oz. Pineapple juice
  • 2 dashes Habanero bitters
  • 2 Smoked pineapple chunks dusted in black Hawaiian sea salt, for garnish

Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with the salt-coated pineapple.

Heavens Half Acre cocktail at Grand Wailea by John Toigo

Heavens Half Acre

Recipe courtesy of John Toigo, Beverage Manager / Sommelier; Image: Grand Wailea

This tiki tipple packs a potent punch of bourbon. Bitters and falernum give it enticing spiciness, while Yellow Chartreuse provides herbal sweetness.

  • 1 ½ oz. Bourbon
  • ½ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • ½ oz. Lime juice
  • ½ oz. Velvet Falernum
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 oz. Pineapple juice
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

El-OTAY! cocktail at Proxi by Josh Relkin


Recipe courtesy of Josh Relkin, Head Bartender; Image: Proxi

Relkin uses the restaurant’s custom wood-fired grill and oven to char different elements for his cocktails.

  • ¾ oz. Lime juice
  • ½ oz. Heavy agave syrup (2 parts dark agave, 1 part hot water)
  • 2 oz. corn-infused Tequila (see note)
  • Tajin salt rim and lime wedge to garnish (see note)

Coat half of the outside of a rocks glass with a lime wedge, then dip in the Tajin salt rim. Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into the prepared glass over fresh ice.

For the corn-infused Tequila:

Remove the stalk of an ear of corn, keeping on the husk. Place it on a heated grill, turning until corn is well caramelized and brightly colored yellow underneath. Place it in a Cambro container, trimming kernels and keeping the husks, and fill container with 750ml bottle of blanco tequila. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least 48 hours at room temperature. Strain it through a chinois, then a coffee filter.

For the Tajin salt rim:

Mix 1 oz. ground chipotle, ¼ oz. cayenne pepper, ½ oz. dark chili powder, 1 ½ oz. Tajin and 3 oz. salt. Store in a container with a tightly fitting lid.

Daq Attack cocktail at Proxi by Josh Relkin

Daq Attack

Recipe courtesy of Josh Relkin, Head Bartender; Image: Proxi

  • ¾ oz. Lime juice
  • ¾ oz. Roasted banana curry syrup (see note)
  • 2 oz. El Dorado 5 Year Rum
  • Thai basil leaf and 3 drops of curry tincture (optional)

Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the basil leaf and three drops of curry tincture.

For the roasted banana curry syrup:

Place a bunch of bananas (peels intact) on a sheet tray, and poke holes in the skin to allow steam to escape. Place in a preheated 400-degree-Fahrenheit oven and roast until black and soft (about 30 minutes). Remove the peels and weigh the roasted bananas. Add an equal amount of sugar and mash with a potato masher. Record the total weight, then add 10% of the weight in curry powder. Add water in the same amount as the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove it from the heat, let cool, and place in the refrigerator overnight. Strain the mixture through a chinois and press with a ladle. Once strained, add 4 oz. of banana liqueur for each liter of strained syrup.

Sol of Texas cocktail by Thomas De La Garza at Pitchfork Pretty

Sol of Texas

Thomas De La Garza, Beverage Director; Image: Pitchfork Pretty

“My favorite fruits to grill have more bitter qualities, like grapefruit and blood oranges,” La Garza says. “Both fruits really shine with Blanco Tequila or floral gins, [and] blood orange really goes best with lime, lemon or baking spices like cinnamon or star anise.”

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with grated cinnamon.

For the charred blood orange juice:

Cut blood oranges in half through the equator. Grill the cut side until charred and caramelized. Remove from heat, let cool, and juice and strain.

For the cinnamon honey:

Place 1 cup honey and 5 cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or until desired flavor is achieved. Strain out solids.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website,, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.

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