Change it up – add heat & spices to your cocktails

By / Wine + Drinks / November 30th, 2016 / 15

Grab a cocktail book — any cocktail book — and look for a recipe that calls for spice.

Bloody Mary? Check. Bloody Caesar? Check again. After that — unless you include ginger — spicy drinks are few and far between. Which is sort of a strange thing, given how so many foodies are practically addicted to Sriracha, not to mention the harissa, habanero, cayenne and of course, smoky chipotle flavours that dominate today’s food scene (see page __). We add these to our eggs at breakfast, lunch-hour tacos and fried chicken dinners. Even desserts are spicy now, thanks to our recent realization that chocolate and ancho are soulmates.

When it comes to drinks, though, we’re reluctant. Kate Boushel, a cocktail bartender who can be found shaking things up four nights a week at Montréal’s Le Mal Nécessaire, says this reluctance is understandable.

“Not everyone is able to endure heat,” says Boushel. “And it’s difficult to gauge your patron’s tastes, so most bartenders try to err on the side of restraint.”

Boushel, a serious fan of spicy food and drink, has therefore developed strategies for utilizing spice without blowing out her guests’ taste buds. For one, she almost always removes the seeds from her peppers before using them to infuse a cocktail base, be it a syrup, tea or juice. “When you get rid of the jalapeño’s seeds, for instance, you wind up with the fresh and peppery taste but none of the intense burn. Also, seeds transmit heat to an infusion really quickly — in a matter of minutes.”

Her other advice is to develop a roster of spice pairings that can serve as go-to flavour combinations that can be tweaked to suit any spirit you happen to have on hand. She recommends jalapeño and watermelon, since the peppery, light heat of the jalapeño binds well with the fresh watermelon. Another similar combo is cool cucumber and mildly spicy poblano. Both of these flavour combinations can be used to spice up a margarita, gimlet or Collins, among others.

“Probably my favourite is thyme and pink pepper,” says Boushel. “You can make a beautiful daiquiri by replacing the lime with grapefruit and sweetening it up with a little thyme and pink pepper syrup.

“People shouldn’t be afraid of playing around with spice and herbs to make savoury cocktails,” she advises. “A little trial and error is worth it, since savoury drinks are so perfect for cinq à sept.”

Still afraid? Wade in slowly with Boushel’s original cocktail, El Gran Seducción, designed especially for Quench.

el gran seducción

1 oz El Jimador tequila
1 oz Flor de Caña 7 Year Old rum
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz fresh pink grapefruit
1 oz mango-chipotle-ginger syrup*

Shake all ingredients over ice and fine-strain into a chilled martini glass. Alternatively, pour over crushed ice in a rocks glass.

*To make syrup, blend 1 cup of chopped mango with 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. Cut up 3 slices of peeled ginger (3–4 oz), 1 chipotle and add to mango mixture. Let sit for an hour, then strain the solids out. Refrigerate syrup.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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