Five Spicy Cocktail Recipes to Try at Home This Weekend

Adding heat to your drinks takes a little love and care. Here's how to do it right.

February 11, 2021 10:16 am
Spicy cocktail
Photo illustration / Original pic by Adam Bialik

Looking to expand your horizons when it comes to at-home cocktails? Consider adding some spice. But be careful when you start playing with all that fire.

“Spice in cocktails is a delicate balance,” says Adam Fournier, Bar Director at Nueva in Venice, CA. “It is far too easy for a spice to overwhelm a cocktail, and all that ends up in the glass is liquid heat. Adding spice to cocktails should be thought of in the same way as adding spice in food.”

It’s not just about cutting up peppers and throwing ’em in a drink (though you can do that!). Consider the spice itself. “Not all spice is the same,” explains Alan Ercolani, Beverage Director of Less Than Greater Than in Hudson, MA. “For example, jalapeño, chipotle and Szechuan peppers are all ‘spicy’ but have wildly different flavor profiles.”

It also depends on what you consider a spicy food. Maybe it’s Poblano peppers, but that kick could also come from ginger, horseradish, kimchi or cinnamon.

So how to get that flavor into your drink? Chris Tunstall of the cocktail consultancy A Bar Above outlined several ways: You can chop up, say, peppers and muddle them into a cocktail shaker; infuse the alcohol directly with your spicy ingredient over a period of time; create a tincture; infuse a syrup; or add a spicy rim to a cocktail glass.

Two other methods are even easier: Buying a bottle of booze/liqueur that’s already spicy (say, Ghost Tequila or Ancho Reyes) or even using ready-made, non-alcohol ingredients that have spice (habanero bitters, jalapeno-stuffed olives, etc.).

We interviewed nearly a hundred bartenders about the best way to add spice in your drink, so you’ll see some of their magic over the next few weeks. But below, we spotlight a few spicy recipes that are easy enough to whip up by this weekend with just a few ingredients.

Fire Walk With me
Claire Mallett

Fire Walk With Me 
By Claire Mallett of Catch One (Los Angeles)

1.5 oz Ilegal Joven Mezcal
1 oz OM Meyer Lemon & Ginger Liqueur
1 oz grapefruit juice
.5 oz lime juice
.25 oz agave syrup 
2 droppers Serrano Cocktail Spice 
2 dashes mole bitters 
1 bar spoon of Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake. Double strain over crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a sparkler.

Smoke & Fire
By Gabriel Figueroa, Vestry (NYC)

1 egg white
1.5 oz Reposado Tequila
.5 oz Mezcal
.25 oz Ancho Reyes
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup
1/8 t Yuzu Kosho

Dry shake all ingredients together. Once frothy, add ice and shake until ice cold. Double strain into desired glass/cup. No ice! Says Figueroa: “A little Yuzu Kosho adds spice to the drink.  The egg white creates texture and softens the flavors a bit. What you’re left with is a velvety drink that still has plenty of tartness, sweetness, and spice.”

Spicy Dirty Gibson
Adam Bialik

Dirty Spicy Gibson
By Eric “ET” Tecosky, founder of Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice, former bar manager at Jones Hollywood

3 oz Mulholland Vodka
.5 oz Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice

Stir or shake with ice. Grab a bottle of Vermouth … and then put it back in the fridge. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Your spice: Garnish with two Dirty Sue Jalapeno Stuffed Onions.

Spicy Margarita
By Ellen Talbot, Fable Lounge (Nashville)

2 oz blanco tequila
.75 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz dry curaçao or triple sec 
.25 oz simple syrup 
3-4 fresh jalapeño slices

Muddle the peppers in a shaker tin and add all ingredients. Shake with ice until the tin is frosty. Using a mesh strainer, double strain the drink over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a fresh lime coin. If you like salt, salt the rim of your glass before making the drink. Says Talbot: “The easiest way for a home bartender to add spice is to muddle pepper slices into a shaker tin or stirring vessel, prepare the cocktail and then strain the drink so that the solids and seeds don’t end up in the final glass. If using a liqueur, keep in mind that they add a level of sweetness as well, so you might have to alter the proportions of your other ingredients.”

Gold Fashioned
Courtesy of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Gold Fashioned
By Rachel Ramirez, Lead Mixologist for Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

2 oz Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey
.25 oz honey simple (2:1 ratio of raw honey to water)
.25 oz ginger syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube or sphere. Express the oils from a lemon peel over the top of the drink and insert peel into the drink.

For the ginger syrup, juice one pound of fresh ginger root. Measure the ginger juice and add an equal amount of sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add sugar until the desired level of sweetness is reached. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. 

Says Ramirez: “My favorite way to add spice to cocktails is by adding spice to the syrup I’ll be using. The sugar balances out the additional heat and aromatics. If I’m pairing with citrus to make something bright and refreshing, then I might steep the syrup with fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers. If I’m looking for warm and comforting, then I’m reaching for cinnamon, allspice or cardamom.”


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