Does anyone else always go for the spicy concoction on a menu? Do you seek out that little pepper logo as you peruse a bar’s selections? Is your palate always in search of that delectable kick that sets your tongue ablaze? I’m a huge fan of spice in food and libations, and while there’s always that point of no return when it comes to heat, a little bit of spice can be a great way to elevate your experience and create something unique when entertaining at home. We’ve likely all had a great spicy bloody mary in our day, and a huge population of Louisville knows that Galaxie’s spicy margaritas are next level, but what are other ingredients and bevvies we can cultivate to kick it up a notch when creating for guests? What can you use to stock your home bar with to turn it all the way up? I’ve got you covered with my favorite spicy hacks so you can pack a piquant punch at your next celebration.
I have the most visceral memory of the first time I tried Tajín. I was visiting Mexico with my partner’s family, and we were walking down a sprawling promenade in the northwestern port city of Puerto Peñasco, close to where his family is from in the state of Sonora. Vendors dotted the edge of the pier selling wares and food, just steps above the waves, and Jamie’s mom ordered a mango from one of the salesmen. He pulled one out of a cooler, grabbed a machete and started filleting it so that the mango had pine cone slits all over. It was doused in a red sauce I later found out was chamoy (a savory sauce made from pickled fruit and chiles) and then dusted with Tajín. She offered me a taste, and now, each time I have a mango with Tajín, I still feel that salty breeze on my cheek with each tart kick.
Tajín is a seasoning consisting primarily of chile peppers, lime and salt, hugely popular in Mexico and as a condiment for fruit, veggies and micheladas. I cannot get enough of it, and I encourage you to grab a bottle and start creating. It is perfect for the rim of the glass on margaritas or mezcal Old Fashioneds. Jamie even put a superb Tajín-rimmed watermelon margarita on the cocktail menu at Crescent Hill Craft House that meets my Tajín cravings, with Monte Alban tequila, lemon and lime juice, watermelon syrup and agave nectar. Grab one and see what I’m talking about.
Another way to incorporate some subtle spice into your creations is to pre-make a pungent simple syrup. You can use any spices that you love, but recently I made a Chinese five-spice simple syrup infused with Thai chiles, and it took an Old Fashioned to another level of delicious heat. This syrup sounds more laborious than it is — promise. Simply add about a cup of water and the spices (I ordered a five-spice pack off Amazon) along with three-quarters of a cup of demerara sugar (you can also use honey). I also had some dried Thai chiles on hand, so I broke two of those and dropped them in the saucepan, seeds and all. Reduce and simmer for about five minutes, cover and let cool for a few hours. Then, strain it into a squeeze bottle or jar. It is warm and savory with fennel and cardamom and has a definite kick (be aware — those chiles and seeds make it hot!). This syrup is begging to be used in fall concoctions.
Herbs and roots can also help us elevate our glasses from basic to that beautiful burn. The warm aroma of ginger in craft cocktails isn’t a new concept, but have you tried adding it to the classics at home?
A good way to incorporate different ingredients into your personal creations is to think about flavors you’ve had alongside ginger that work well. We know ginger and lime are a home run because, well, Moscow Mule. Why not shave some fresh ginger into a classic daiquiri with golden rum and simple syrup? Delicious. Pineapple and ginger can be great friends, and you will bring the sweet, marrying bourbon, ginger liqueur, pineapple juice and a splash of soda in a rocks glass.
In the mood for a spritz? Add ginger beer to a glass of prosecco with lemon for a slightly hotter bubbly beverage. The best part about creating cocktails is that we can use influences from food flavors and memories we’ve had to come up with something delightful and truly unique. So next time you’ve got a crew rolling over, make it spicy, y’all. Cheers! •