Spicy Spirits: Fireball Whiskey

I’m psyched to see more cinnamon-flavored spirits coming out in the market.

I was a fan of De Kuyper’s “Hot Damn!” cinnamon schnapps, which was on the market/ then off the market /and now back in 80 and 100 proof format. The version I tried (before the relaunch) reminded me of those tiny red-hot candies — very sweet, but lots of sizzle. 

In addition, Hiram Walker is launching “Original Cinn,” also a cinnamon schnapps, clocking in at 90 proof. I’ve not yet tried the product, but their marketing boilerplate promises an “aroma like fresh-baked cinnamon rolls with notes of vanilla and a warm, spicy finish on the palate.” 

And last week, at Tales of the Cocktail, I tried Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, and frankly I was ready to pocket the bottle and bring it home. It’s made with Canadian whiskey, and has the usual caramel/vanilla notes and amber hue found in the spirit. But the taste, heat level, and finish truly reminded me of those round red fireball candies — in other words, hot stuff!  Unlike liqueurs, it wasn’t overly sweet, either. I’m dreaming of mixing it with fall apple cider.

However, I’m not so much a fan of the tagline printed on the back:  “tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”  The heat was more of a gentle glow than a Tabasco-like fiery furnace. I suspect that “burns like hell” will scare off less adventurous imbibers.

Hot stuff: Monin spicy syrups

Well, looka what the postman brought:  Monin’s line of spiced syrups.  I had a great time experimenting with the Habanero Lime flavor over the weekend, which is why you don’t see it in the photo below, dashing it into 7-up, tequila, and whatever else I had on hand. I’m excited about this product line, with good reason.

Spicy Chocolate, Spicy Red Cinnamon, Spicy Mango, Chipotle Pineapple syrups.

Let me tell you a syrup story. Maybe a year ago, after the book manuscript was safely turned in to my editor but long before the publication date, I hit upon the brilliant idea of marketing a line of Spice & Ice-branded syrups and glass rimmers. Great idea, right? I got busy with all the due diligence:  I signed up for a seminar with the NASFT (the same folks who bring us the Fancy Food show); I found a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn willing to let me use their space; I ordered dozens of tiny food-grade squeeze bottles to share with a few selected bartenders; I cranked out a marketing plan.

But wait — one key piece of the puzzle still was missing.

The product.

Here’s the problem:  I have lots of great simple syrup recipes, but they’re good for a couple of weeks, and that’s it. In order to sell a product, it has to keep long enough to survive distribution, maybe sitting in trucks or warehouses or on shelves for months and months. Even refrigerated products require some longetivity.

I spent several weekends brewing up syrups I really liked – Habanero Orange! Jalapeno Mint! Clove & Cinnamon! – and then I’d decant them into squeeze bottles, cap ‘em up, and sit them on a shelf to see how long a shelf life I might claim. Each time, it was about 2 weeks, and then a thin scum of black mold would grow. So very appetizing! So I’d toss out the bottle and start over again. I pestered a lot of very nice people with questions, who generously shared advice:  Use a greater sugar-to-water ratio, since sugar is a preservative. Purchase preservatives to extend shelf life (I had my heart set on creating an organic product, so that ruled out most preservatives). Find a better way to seal air out of the bottles.

Equally troubling: sulfur. I wanted to work with fresh peppers, which work great in freshly-made syrups but don’t age well. They begin to exude a horrible, knock-you-over-backwards, sulphuric stink after about 3 weeks.

So we stamp Kara’s Great Entrepreneurial Syrup Adventure with a big, fat, red FAIL.  (Anyone want to buy a box of 2 dozen tiny food-grade plastic bottles?)

If you’re still reading, you understand one reason I’m psyched about the Monin line:  they pulled off what I could not. I was sure this would be a high-fructose extravaganza, but no, they’re all made with cane sugar, and only the fruit-flavored syrups include potassium sorbate, a relatively innocuous preservative. But maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself:  I insisted on using fresh peppers and spices, where Monin subs in “natural pepper flavor,” “natural cinnamon flavor,” etc. I’m not entirely sure what goes into that, or how “natural” it actually may be.

In terms of taste, I was pleased. There’s a good balance of sweet and heat, with just a pleasant peppery tingle and no harshness in the throat or unpleasantly overt ersatz aftertaste. Nothing is the same as making it yourself, but I consider these syrups a perfectly acceptable substitute, and they get a rare recommendation from me. Bravo to Monin for making the product that I could not.

Because elephants hate chiles, and we like elephants.

It’s that time of year when we all start thinking about philanthropy (right???) and I love when I can help others by doing what comes naturally to me. Enter Elephant Pepper hot sauces.

Apparently, elephants hate chile peppers (who knew?), so farmers in Africa plant chiles around their fields to deter elephants from trampling the crops. The peppers then are made into hot sauces and spice mixes, which fund elephant conservation and agricultural research.  They even have great-looking gift packs, if you’re in holiday shopping mode.

Besides, if you buy some, then you have an excuse to make these great hot-sauce cocktails

Girl holding chiles - photo courtesy of elephantpepper.com

5 Must-Try Spirits for Spice Lovers

Like the hot stuff? Then you’re going to want to get your hands on the following products.

(And no, I have not been paid or otherwise compensated to mention any of these brands…or any others on this blog, for that matter. These are my opinions. Period.)

Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur:  This tingly liqueur in the iridescent bamboo-shaped bottle has just the faintest hit of ginger-y heat, and blends seamlessly into cocktails. Imbibed in petite shots, this the perfect way to indoctrinate everyone you know into spicy drinks.  I’d rate this one mild to harmless.

Mazama Infused Pepper Vodka:  MazamaWhat do you mean you haven’t tried it yet? What the heck are you waiting for? Created by Oregon’s Bendistillery, the vodka is infused with a blend of six different hot and sweet peppers. The web site recommends blending it with mango juice and a dash of sugar.   Sounds good to me. Rating:  medium to hot.

Tanteo Chocolate Tequila: Think the rougher, tougher side of chocolate mole. I’ll be honest:  the jalapeno infusion is a little brutal even for my daredevil taste, and I’d gladly see it toned down a bit so the chocolate can shine through more clearly. But at the bottom of it all, it’s a smooth tequila, and would be awesome in a spicy chocolate margarita, so it makes my shortlist. The marketing literature describes the flavor as “roasted”; I concur.  Rating:  HOT STUFF, handle with caution.

 MS_Celery_PeppercornModern Spirits Celery Peppercorn Vodka:  It’s not just that Modern Spirits is an artisanal brand. It’s not just that the bottles and the labels are so very pretty. It’s not even just that they also own the organic Tru brand. To me, it’s all about the fact that this is a product that seems custom-made for adding to a Bloody Mary. They’ve somehow managed to capture the elusive freshness of celery stalks, and the peppercorn notes don’t overpower either. It’s delicate but not flabby.   Rating:  a very lovely medium.

Hangar One Chipotle Vodka – This is a limited edition product made with Fresno chile peppers, and I suspect it will sell out very shortly (let’s hope they plan to make more!). I spotted some on the shelf at Astor Wines & Spirits; it won’t be there for long. Check out the video of Hangar One’s Lance Winters on distilling chipotle peppers– he neatly sums up what’s wrong with many pepper-infused liquors (but none of the ones above): “all they are is hot & spicy, there’s no other identity of the pepper.” Amen to that. Rating:  medium to hot.