Celebrating a new book with the Redeeming Spirits cocktail

photo credit: Andrea Meyers

photo credit: Andrea Meyers

My always-inspiring friend Monica Bhide has a new book out, The Devil in Us. Although Monica usually writes thoughtful musings about food and her Indian heritage (with good reason, her work frequently is featured in the annual “Best Food Writing” compilations), this is her fiction debut, a collection of short stories.

I was honored when Monica asked me to create a spicy cocktail to celebrate the new book — and here it is, perfect for sipping while you read. There’s a non-alcoholic version too, at Monica’s request. Enjoy!

Redeeming Spirits 

A variation on the classic Moscow Mule, this drink is powered by the heat of pepper-infused vodka. Choose a good commercial brand (I like Oola, from Washington State), or marinate a sliced fresh jalapeno in one cup of unflavored vodka for a couple of hours. Note – a traditional Mule uses ginger beer; here the sweetness of ginger ale should help balance out the jalapeno spice.

1 1/2 ounces chile pepper-infused vodka

1/2 ounce lime juice (about half a lime)

4 ounces ginger ale

Jalapeno slice (to garnish)

In a tall glass, pour in the vodka and squeeze the lime wedges into the glass. Drop the wedges into the glass, and add a scoop of ice. Add ginger ale to fill the glass and stir.



4-6 ounces spicy ginger beer

1/2 ounce lime juice (about half a lime)

In a tall glass, pour in the ginger beer and squeeze the lime wedges into the glass. Drop the wedges into the glass. Scoop in ice and stir to chill.

Why I won’t be drinking “the world’s hottest chilli vodka”

Supposedly, I know a thing or two about spicy spirits and cocktails.  But even I have my limits.

A press release just landed on my desk, announcing the launch of “the world’s hottest chilli vodka” (this is a UK brand; U.S. folks use “chile” to refer to hot peppers): “100,000 Scovilles – Naga Chilli Vodka, made by infusing vodka with the world’s hottest chilli – the Naga Jolokia. ” In other words, Ghost Pepper-infused vodka.

Fine. Those ghost peppers are mighty hot stuff.  But I’ve had ghost pepper-infused spirits. That’s not the problem. Nor is the following warning on the label/web site (actually, I think this is funny):

By purchasing this bottle, you agree that:

1) I have been warned and fully understand that this product contains extreme heat and should be used and handled responsibly.

2) I use this product entirely at my own risk and I understand the potential danger if used or handled irresponsibly. If I give this product as a gift I will make the recipient aware of the potential danger if used or handled irresponsibly.

3) I accept that the retailer and manufacturer of this product will, under no circumstances, be responsible for, or liable for, any claims of injury or damage arising from the use or misuse of this product and by purchasing this product, whether for myself or as a gift, I acknowledge and agree to this fact without question.

4) I am not inebriated or of unsound mind and am fully able to make a rational decision to purchase this product.

No, what bothers me is THIS:  drinkers are urged not to drink it neat, and “definitely do not have it as a shot.”

Simply put: If you can’t drink it straight, you shouldn’t buy it.

What? You’re going to buy it anyway? Masochist. Might as well buy a copy of my book while you’re at it to get some cocktail suggestions, since you’re so severely discouraged from drinking that vodka straight up.

Spicy cocktail contest finalists

Did you enter the “build us a spicy cocktail” contest? In case you missed all the excitement, spice goddess Monica Bhide is hosting this contest to find the best original spicy cocktail — and I have the pleasure of judging the entries. So over the weekend, I made (and drank!) the three finalist cocktails. Here they are:

Poddy Toddy, submitted by Lamb’s Munchings & Musings

1/4 cup shots boiling water
4 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 teaspoon honey
1 thai chili, cut in half lengthwise through the stem
2 shots brandy
whipped cream
ground cardamom (optional)

Steep cardamom pods in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Strain, and stir honey into water, add the chili halves, and reheat water until hot or boiling.

Remove chili halves and reserve. Add brandy. Divide liquid between two mugs. Top each with a dollop of whipped cream, a very light dusting of ground cardamom atop the cream, and hang half a chili from the side of each mug.

Panaka Punch, submitted by Panfusine

1 oz chilled Lemon flavored Vodka
2 oz Domain de Canton Ginger liqueur
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon powdered dry ginger
2-3 pods Cardamom (seeds lightly crushed)
1/2 a lime ( juice squeezed )
3 ounces chilled sparkling water or lime flavored seltzer

Muddle the brown sugar, cardamom seeds, ginger powder and lime juice till the sugar dissolves. add the vodka, and ginger liqueur along with the seltzer/sparkling water. Strain into glasses (rimmed with sugar if desired) & serve chilled.

Saffron Mojito, submitted by nitu didi

To make 1 cup of saffron syrup, boil 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water for about 6 minutes and add a pinch saffron to the sugar water mixture.

30 ml of white rum

60 ml of saffron sugar syrup
a few mint leaves
20 ml of lime juice
lots of crushed ice

In a fancy glass crush the mint leaves with the back of the spoon to emit their flavor. Add the rum, sugar syrup and the lime juice and taste. You can always make it sweeter, more sour or even more potent!!! add the crushed ice and give it a stir!!!!!!!!!!

and the winner is…..? 

Spicy Spirits: Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper

Last week I attended a launch party for Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper, a new extension to the SoCo brand, held at Neely’s BBQ Parlor. 

So how was it? Straight up, the flavor is on the sweet side (as is regular SoCo), and reminded me of Red-Hot candies, but it has a familar, vinegary Tabasco twang on the finish. I suspect this one will find a broad spectrum of drinkers. It’s not very spicy, it has just a hint of naughty sizzle, which nearly disappears when mixed into drinks.

It went down particularly easy mixed in the “Burnt Lemon” cocktail:  SoCo Pepper, turbinado sugar, and homemade lemonade, garnished with a candied lemon peel.

For me, the big surprise of the evening wasn’t the spirit — but rather, the discovery that Neely’s has a cigar cellar, which was dark and refreshingly chill after the crush of BBQ-hungry hordes upstairs. If I didn’t have dinner plans afterwards, I might have lingered to try the cigar-and-SoCo Pepper pairing offered.

I have to call out the soundtrack for the evening, too:  “Hot and Cold” by Katy Perry; “Burning Down the House” by The Talking Heads. “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer. Whoever put together the playlist sure had a lot of fun, and I stuck around for an extra drink just to see what song would come up next.

Build us a spicy cocktail!

A photo Monica snapped of SOME of the prize booty.

Want to win a copy of Spice & Ice, plus an amazing passel of cocktail-worthy goodies?  Strut your stuff by creating your own original spicy cocktail!  All the details are posted here.

Spice goddess Monica Bhide is hosting the contest – if you’re not already familiar with her, let me tell you, the woman is a walking spice encyclopedia. Among her many accomplishments, she’s the author of the fab ” iSpice” app as well as Modern Spice, a mouthwatering book focused on Indian cooking.  Clearly we share a love of bold flavors in food and drink.

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Monica on this giveaway. Wait until you see the incredible box of goodies she’s put together: spices from Williams-Sonoma and MySpiceSage, Bar Keep Bitters ( love those Baked Apple Bitters), a cocktail shaker from Perfect Puree of Napa Valley, and a LOT more. No wonder Monica says this is her biggest contest EVER!

One more detail: I will make (and drink) the top 3 finalist cocktails, and will be posting those finalist recipes on this site. But only one winner gets the grand prize box (…AND publication on both Monica’s site and mine…AND of course, bragging rights)!

Deadline to submit is Sept. 30.  Click here to check out all the contest details and view the giveaway prize!

Playing with pepper (and vodka)

 You might already know (or suspect) my fondness for peppercorn cocktails. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive a box containing a bottle of Karlsson’s Vodka, along with a Karlsson’s-branded bottle of black peppercorns.

I had to ask, what was the connection between vodka and pepper?

“The inspiration came from the founder, Peter Ekelund, who was accustomed to eating the potatoes with black pepper,” the PR rep explained. “After developing the vodka, he was inspired to try it on the rocks with some black pepper, thus creating their signature drink, the Black Gold.” More specifically, vodka with a grind of black pepper.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of ground black pepper in drinks — it makes for an unpleasantly gritty texture. But I tried my own variation (above) — vodka shaken with ice and whole peppercorns. It livened up the sweet vodka with a bit of peppery zing, but made it easy to leave the pepper at the bottom of the glass.

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.

Spicy Spirits: Yazi ginger flavored vodka

I hate spirits targeted to women. I just don’t understand why I’m expected to want to drink something just because it’s pink, or just because a chick is printed somewhere on the label.

So sorry to say, Yazi Vodka (isn’t that the name of a contraceptive?) had a strike against it from the minute I saw the marketing material. The funny thing is, it’s not a particularly “feminine” bottle. It has a dragon on one side, and a red-and-and-white label on the other. Although it’s being marketed as “perfume-inspired,” in fact, the bottle has some serious heft to it. Perhaps it could be marketed to women looking for a weapon to fend off attackers.

Okay, that’s enough sniping about the packaging. What about what’s inside?

The ginger-infused vodka has a good punch to it, “sweet and spicy,” as advertised. Supposedly it’s made from four different species of ginger (which ones are not specified anywhere I can find), and cayenne, as well as lemon and orange.  I didn’t quite pick up the fruity notes. The cayenne zing sneaks up on you and lingers a good long time, though it probably would be tempered in a drink with some sweetness to it, like the “Yazitini” recipe listed on the bottle neck tag — essentially, a ginger Cosmopolitan. At 35% abv, it’s a little less potent than most of the 80 proof vodkas out there, which is not a bad thing.

The final verdict: Although the pseudo “Sex and the City” positioning makes me cranky, the spirit is just fine.  Chileheads will enjoy the lingering cayenne prickle.

A spiced spirit I can only dream about

This a curious coincidence.  Last week, I filed a Spirited Traveller post about spice-infused spirits in Mumbai, informed by insight from the high-spirited Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a blogger, writer, and culinary expert based in Mumbai.

Most of the article is about the growing trend for Mumbai bartenders to infuse spirits — particularly vodka — with Indian and Southeast Asian flavours such as roasted cumin, kaffir lime leaves, or bird’s-eye chiles.

The day the article ran, I recieved an email from Rushina:  “I thought u might want to have a look see,” she wrote.

Indeed – it was a press release for Masala Mar Ke, a new product from U.S. vodka maker Smirnoff, “with the added zing of tangy lemonade and fiery chaat masala.

It’s not sold in the U.S., and probably never will be. And I’m drooling over the prospect of getting my hands on a bottle, made more attractive by its sheer elusiveness.

Why do we always want what we can’t have?  If you’ve had a great bottle (or cocktail) overseas that you can’t get at home, please feel free to commiserate here. Misery loves company!

Chile Pepper Magazine returns!

Mark Twain once wrote, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

And despite my earlier “R.I.P Chile Pepper Magazine” post,  I’m pleased to confirm that Chile Pepper Magazine is alive, kicking, and now officially owned by a new publisher, Mcaby Media, a Houston-based company which also publishes Pilates Style and H Texas magazine. 

The April/May 2011 issue is now out on newsstands, and includes my article, “Bloody Good – The New Bloody Mary,”  featuring drinks from Cochon, Judy Bennett’s brand-spankin’-new book on Bloody Marys, and more. The issue also includes a fun article on BBQ by Southern food expert Kendra Bailey Morris as well as a slew of recipes from Andrea Lynn, who I swear contributed at least half the content in this issue. 

Although I’m not returning as a regular spirits columnist, I will continue to contribute occasional articles to the magazine.

However, while Chile Pepper  languished over the last year, a competitor stepped on to the playing field:  Last month Dave DeWitt, the self-described “Pope of Peppers” and original publisher of Chile Pepper magazine, unveiled a digital-only publication, Burn! Magazine. It’s still early days, but so far I like what I’ve seen. It’s lively, colorful and sassy. The first issue included stories like “Killer Bacon!” and had a recipe for Bacon and Habanero Infused Vodka.

What do you think…. is this town is big enough for two spicy-food pubs?