Hittin’ the Sauce: 3 great hot sauce cocktails

When cocktailians talk about “the sauce,” usually we’re referring to booze. But this is a blog dedicated to fiery cocktails, so let’s get literal and talk adding hot sauce to drinks.

Tabasco hot sauces (photo credit: Tabasco)

Tabasco hot sauces (photo credit: Tabasco)

When I interviewed cocktail consultant Danny Valdez, then head bartender at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and a fellow spicy-drinks fanatic for Chile Pepper magazine, he explained:  “Being in the South, we love spice and the majority of us douse anything edible with hot sauce. So having cocktails with hot sauce was inevitable.”

In fact, Danny describes hot sauce as “a common tool in the bartender’s tool box.” He uses hot sauce to select a specific heat level, taste profile, or aroma to drinks – and doesn’t shy away from using its vinegary twang to rev up flavors. One recent experiment:  a Roasted Tomato and Chipotle Bloody Mary, which incorporates Chipotle-flavored Tabasco, and subs in balsamic vinegar in place of the traditional Worcestershire sauce.

 There’s some precedent for dashing hot sauce into cocktails:  The Shrub, a classic cocktail that uses vinegar as a key component –also a key component in hot sauce. In his book, “How’s Your Drink,” Wall Street Journal drinks columnist Eric Felten discusses how colonial Americans enjoyed mixing rum with a style of syrup, called a shrub:  fruit (often raspberries), sugar and white wine vinegar. The finished cocktail now is often referred to as a Shrub. At the modern-day bar, the shrub has taken on new life as gastriques (caramelized sugar mixed with vinegar or citrus and flavorings).

Like lemon, lime or a vinegar-based gastrique, hot sauce’s role in a cocktail is to add that touch of acid and brightness that cuts through the sweetness of a drink, while also adding a touch of heat.

Here are three recipes for using hot sauce in cocktails, which I’ve categorized into “subtle” (just a touch of heat highlighting a drink with complex flavors), “classic” (moderate heat, and the hot sauce is an integral part of the cocktail), and “stunt spice” (this drink is ALL about the hot sauce!).

#1. SUBTLE:  The Gilded Splinter

Adapted from T. Cole Newton, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans.  This drink is a fine example of how the piquancy of hot sauce can add sizzle to the swizzle:  the lush fruit of Grand Marnier and Maraschino liqueur plays against a single  “healthy dash” of Tabasco; egg whites subdue the capsaicin burn to a pleasant simmer and create a rich, velvety texture.

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

1 tablespoon Maraschino liquor

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 egg white

Healthy dash of Tabasco, or other favorite hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass.


#2: CLASSIC:  The Michelada

This beer-based cocktail is a new classic. Without the hot sauce, this drink is nothing special, just a gussied-up glass of beer. It’s the hot sauce that elevates it to cult status.


#3: STUNT SPICE:  The Bone

This drink was created about five years ago by cocktail historian Dave Wondrich for the now-closed Chickenbone Café in Brooklyn, where the food-friendly shot was often paired served on a plate, encircled by slices of beef – together called “Beef on The Bone.” With a 3 healthy dashes in a short drink, this is downright incendiary – you can’t miss the heat!


¼ cup 101 proof Wild Turkey rye

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon simple syrup

3 dashes Tabasco, or other favorite hot sauce

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and “don’t be timid” with the hot sauce, Wondrich says. Shake it “viciously” and strain into a shot glass.