Hot stuff: Pepper Jelly Cocktails

I’ve been mulling this idea ever since I ran across the Rose City Pepperheads stand at the fabulous greenmarket in Portland OR last year.  The vivid colors and amazing flavors of their pepper jellies  (Thai Mandarin!  Hawaiian Jalapeno!) practically scream “mix me into a cocktail.”

Of course, jam cocktails are nothing new. In fact, they’re rather old: In 1862, mixiologist Jerry Thomas included a guava jelly-spiked Barbados Punch in his Bartender’s Guide, and in 1930, The Savoy Cocktail Book included a gin-based Marmalade Cocktail. More recently, UK bartender Salvatore Calabrese created and popularized the Breakfast Martini, which incorporates marmalade along with gin and Cointreau.

But that’s not going to stop me from playing with the pepper-jelly palette. I found a medium-heat, bright red pepper jelly, which I thought might lend itself to a darker, whiskey-sour style cocktail.

A couple of thoughts for those also thinking of tinkering with pepper jelly cocktails:

Know thy jam. Read the ingredients list carefully — garlic? onion powder? Think twice before adding these to a cocktail. Vinegar? Ok, maybe, but you might need to dial down the citrus a bit, since vinegar is an acid too. Be sure to taste the jam first to gauge for sweetness — you might need to add agave nectar or simple syrup.

Don’t lump it. I posed this question to drinks experts who frequent the Mixoloseum, and they had some great advice.

#1: To avoid a drink with unappetizing lumps, before adding ice to the cocktail shaker, stir together the liquid ingredients with the jam, and use a spoon to smush out any remaining lumps. Then add ice and shake and strain as usual.

#2:  To avoid lumps, dissolve the jam in other liquid ingredients before adding the booze, then double-strain for bits of peel, unless you like ’em.

Hot Pepper Jelly Cocktail

1 heaping tablespoon pepper jelly (I used Four Monks medium Jalapeno Jelly)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Spoon the pepper jelly into a cocktail shaker, and use the spoon to mash it against the sides of the shaker to break up any lumps. Add the Bourbon, and stir to dissolve the jelly. Add the lemon juice and ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass.

If you have a favorite jam-based cocktail, I’d love to hear about it!

P.S. What do you think of the photo? I’m actively trying to up my photography game.

4 thoughts on “Hot stuff: Pepper Jelly Cocktails

  1. My 1st jam drink was the Elephant Jam (apricot jam, Amarula cream, Sauvignon blanc and nutmeg), since then I’ve played around with a few things but not a pepper jelly. I’ll have to try that.
    Your photos always look good. I really struggle to avoid the shadow unless I use a black background.

    • Since this was 2 years ago, I don’t remember all the recipe development details…but I’d wager that I had a bottle of bourbon on hand, and that had a lot to do with the choice of spirit for the drink.

      That said, I think the bold flavors of bourbon would be a better match for spicy pepper jelly vs the more delicate profile of gin. Hot peppers would likely overwhelm the botanicals in gin. But I do love gin, and if you try making this drink with gin, I’d love to hear how it works out for you!

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