Spicy Spirits: Hangar 1 Chipotle Vodka

It’s baa-aack!

Hangar One chipotle vodka was one of the first spicy spirits to cross my radar screen a couple of years ago.

And then it disappeared off the shelves.

And now…it’s back, though to me it tastes a little different, which I suppose is to be expected with an artisan bottling. This batch has a golden color, and smells fresh, juicy, and lightly tomato-y, not at all smoky. But one sip, and it’s definitely all kinds of spicy, smoky, very lively and lingering. Like fresh chile peppers, the more you sip, the more the heat builds. It also has a quality that I find hard to explain, but can best describe it this way:  There’s something alive and authentic in the flavor….it tastes like something I just infused myself.

The heat level is a bit much for me straight up (which means chileheads will looooove it) but this seems like instant gold for blazing Bloody Marys, and I could see this doing nicely in a sweeter drink. Tempered with say, pineapple juice and ice, this would impart a lovely glow. 

The bottle arrived with a ziploc baggie of leathery brown chipotle peppers:  “Jalapeno peppers smoked by T-Rex Barbecue in Berkeley, California,” the label says. ” This is the most important pepper used in our Chipotle vodka.” The other peppers are (fresh) green jalapenos, red bells, and “Scoville-scale-scorching habaneros.” – all locally sourced through C&L Produce of Oakland, CA. And it’s produced & bottled in Alameda, CA. They make a point of labeling it as California’s Hangar One, as you can see on the colorful box in which the vodka arrived.

Final verdict:  Chileheads need to run out and buy a bottle. Now. However, if you don’t care for spicy, this one is not for you.

Just in time for Halloween, the Ghost Pepper Cocktail

At the recent Chile Pepper Fiesta (great write-up & photos here), I was shaking up drinks a few booths over from the Bhut Jolokia folks, who make products using the Bhut Jolokia chile pepper, also fondly known as the Ghost Pepper.

If you’re not already familiar with these bad boys, Bhut Jolokia peppers are waaaayyy up there on the Scoville scale — hotter than Habaneros, hotter than Scotch Bonnets, and allegedly, the hottest known pepper of all. The peppers are widely sold at Kalustyan’s and elsewhere, but the Ghost Pepper guys in Brooklyn were smart enough to package and sell them — and best of all, they make a Spicy Ghost Pepper Watermelon Candy. Oh yes. And it’s inspired me to create a boozy version:  The Ghost Pepper Cocktail.

Here’s the recipe. It may seem a little sweet – but trust me, you need a little extra sugar to help mellow the Bhut Jolokia burn. I dare you to serve this at your Halloween party this year!

Ghost Pepper Cocktail

1/3 cups watermelon puree ( fresh watermelon chunks, seeded and pureed)

3/4 ounce Ghost Pepper simple syrup* (recipe below)

1 1/2 ounce vanilla vodka

Juice of 1 lime

Lemon-lime soda

Pour the watermelon puree, simple syrup, vanilla vodka, and lime juice into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, and strain into a tall glass. Top up with lemon-lime soda. Serve with a straw (or two).

Ghost-Pepper Simple Syrup (enough for several drinks)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 dried jolokia chile pepper (aka Ghost Pepper)

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil, continuously stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the water starts to boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Add the dried pepper to the simmering liquid.

Allow to simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the dried pepper. Pour the syrup into a container and keep in the refrigerator.

Drink recipe: River Tam

Remember our cocktail buddy Dr. By Day? We connected through the serendipity of the blogosphere when he was looking for a recipe for habanero syrup, and found it here

I am so excited to share the news that Christopher Day, a UCLA chemist and talented cocktailian, recently won the TOMA Tequila Championship with his amped-up version of the habanero syrup.  (“I used a lot more habanero,” he admits. “I’m a masochist.”) His recipe will be featured on the menu at Ortega 120.

Here’s Dr. By Day’s award-winning recipe. Congratulations, Doc!

photo credit: Joshua Lurie

River Tam

By Christopher Day
-1 1/2 oz tequila (blanco is fine, but anjeo would probably be better)
-Juice from 1/2 lime (about 3/4 oz)
-1/2 oz habañero simple syrup*
-3 small slices fresh ginger root
-club soda
Pulverize 2 slices of ginger in habañero simple syrup*, followed by adding spirit and squeezing in the lime. Add ice and shake. Pour into a low ball glass filled with ice (with strainer if you don’t want to chew on bits of ginger…which I tend to like) and top it off with club soda and give it a quick stir. If you want, you can garnish with a wheel of lime, but – in all honesty – I only did it for show…the drink stands on i’s own!
*(1 cup water to 1 cup sugar; 4 fresh habanero peppers, stemmed and sliced in half)

Scenes from the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (#MCC)

Greetings from Hangover Central the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a multi-day fete celebrating cocktail culture.  The event is only at the halfway point, but already I’ve got some photos and stories to share.

For me, the main event was “The Spirited Whey,” yesterday’s seminar on Monk-Inspired Cocktails & Cheeses, which I co-presented with cheese expert Diana Pittet. I’ll have more on this soon, but I’m happy to report that the room was filled to capacity, all the spirits and cheeses arrived (plus some last-minute surprise add-ons), and we’ve been getting lovely feedback that the audience had a good time. (whew!)  

But a quick story:  For “The Spirited Whey,” we had hunted for a great cocktail that showcased two particular liqueurs with monastic heritage:  Benedictine and Chartreuse. We found one in the Monte Cassino, Damon Dyer’s award-winning drink crafted for Benedictine’s recent 500th anniversary event.  It’s a lovely drink made with rye, Benedictine, yellow chartreuse, and loads of lemon. And yesterday, minutes before our presentation, I spotted it on the bar menu at Astor Center, ground zero for most of the MCC events.

So I ordered one and introduced myself, (yep, it was Damon behind the bar!) and explained that we were about to feature his drink. What impressed him most:  Diana had done the research to figure out the meaning of the drink’s name (it’s a the name of a monastery).  He later popped into our seminar to talk about how he came up with the drink.

Damon Dyer in action, making a Monte Cassino

The finished Monte Cassino

Other highlights:  The “Hotel Bars” panel hosted by Elayne Duke.

Charlotte Voisey demonstrates how to "throw" a drink.

My favorite drink from the session: The Black Cherry Sling, from Bemelmans Bar (The Carlyle)

And of course, you know I woudn’t miss Tad Carducci’s seminar on Spice:  The Fennel Frontier.

The drink with the hottest profile was the Little Market, made with tequila, guajillo chile syrup pineaple, Yucateca green habanero sauce, and a pico piquin (chile salt mixture) rim for “extra depth and heat.”

Hot Stuff! The "Little Market" cocktail

But my personal favorite was the Masalarinha (a riff on the caipiriha), made with cachaca, fresh lime, Garam Masala syrup, and garnished with a cinnamon-dusted wedge of pineapple. (I need to add this to my list of curry-spiked cocktails.)

The Masalarinha

Diana relaxes with a full line-up of drinks from the Spice seminar (ok, they're not ALL hers!)

Dr. by Day, Cocktailian by Night

Serendipity is one of the best parts of the blogosphere.

Great example:  earlier this week, I received a kind comment from the blogger behind Dr. By Day, about the Dragonfire cocktail.  “Very nice,” he wrote. “I was looking for a decent protocol for handling habañero’s [sic].”  

In real life, the odds of Dr. By Day and I meeting are slim at best; it’s hard to gather the details from his blog, but it appears that he’s a Los Angeles-based PhD candidate studying chemistry, and cocktail enthusiast with a tolerance for the spicy stuff.  But thanks to the wonder of the online world, he has access to my cocktail library, and I have access to his.

And though limited, what a fun library it is. He’s got a great instinct for concocting drink recipes as well as drink photography – take a look at his ginger-y Oh Snap, the jalapeno-spiked Amoxicillin (yep, he’s entrenched in the medical world), and especially, the beautiful Red Queen, made with London dry gin, Peychaud’s bitters, peppercorn simple syrup, and fresh basil leaves.  Seriously, that photo looks like a blossoming rose.

photo credit: Dr. By Day

I suppose it makes sense that cocktailing and chemistry would intersect. And it makes me happy that clear across the country, some giddy, over-tired student sees inspiration to make habanero-infused simple syrup as a great excuse to steal gloves from the lab. You go, Dr. By Day!

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.

Why didn’t I think of these spicy cocktail ideas?

A “pani puri margarita”? Chipotle and Lillet? Blackberry syrup and Tabasco?  Good ideas all, and not a single one mine.

Photo credit: Flickr/A30_Tsiitika

I was psyched to read a write-up of Spice & Ice  (or rather, a write-up of the WaPo’s write-up) in the widely-read Serious Eats blog (Serious Cocktails:  Adding Spice to Your Drinks).  But what really grabbed my attention was the Comments section – one fabulous spicy drink idea after another. Pow, pow, pow!  A quick sampling:

From laetitiae:  a friend makes the most delicious jalapeno lemonade. The spice and tart and sweet all blend together in beautiful, beautiful harmony in that drink.

From nickiter:  a dash of Tabasco mixed into a glass of Four Roses bourbon. You can’t taste it, but you can feel the warmth of it.

From TravelEatDrink, who also helpfully provided a link to a recipe for this treat:  Doesn’t get better than homemade jalapeno, cucumber, mint infused vodka with soda and a slice of lemon. (http://tinyurl.com/ye35dew)

From MikeK:  Vermilion in Chicago does a “Pani Puri Margarita” that is delicious

From nomenclature: One night a few were in the (communal) kitchen concocting these shots involving vodka, a splash of blackberry syrup and a dash or a few of tabasco. They were surprisingly good. A nice sweetness followed by the burn of the heat.

Of course, this is only a sampling of the ideas – but you can read all of them at the end of the Serious Cocktails blog post.

It’s good to be reminded every now and then that I don’t know everything about spicy cocktails – that there is still so much to learn, that someone out there may be creating something new and fabulous right this very second. Just don’t remind me too often, okay? (I’m kidding about that last part- send along new ideas, anytime!)

Finally – a new cocktail technique?

Compared to cooking, where new techniques are seemingly infinite, the cocktail playbook is limited to a few, relatively simple moves:  Pour. Shake. Strain. You get the picture.

So you’ll understand why I get excited to find someone doing something new, like Ryan Maybee of Manifesto in Kansas City, MO. 

Initially, I was pointed in his direction because of his Smokin’ Choke cocktail; he was among the first to use a “smoking gun” to quick-smoke liquor. And he was smart enough to make a video, which PolyScience glommed on to, making Ryan the poster child for the product. (Contrary to my initial perception, the videos are not created by or sponsored by PolyScience. They just knew a good thing when they saw one).

So what other cool tricks does Ryan have up his sleeve? Using eyedroppers to drizzle a spicy float on top of a cocktail. Although I know that eyedroppers are not a new tool in the bartender arsenal – they’re sometimes used to dose a drink with bitters or aromatic tinctures – I have never seen it used to add heat to the top of a drink. It’s different.

The drink itself, called “The Tempest,” is a riff on the classic Dark & Stormy, and it’s shaken to create a foam on the top of the drink. Then he drizzles a five-pepper-infused tequila on top of the drink. “It gives just a whiff of pepperiness,” he explained to me. “It’s the first thing you smell.”

Ryan was kind enough to share the recipe with me. I have to admit, for the quintet of infused peppers, I worry about infusing two habaneros, even roasted habs, in a bottle for a full week. A week! I’ve done hab infusions that are searingly hot in just a couple of short hours. A week seems a little insane with habs, although perfectly reasonable for bell peppers and poblano peppers. But then again, you’re just getting about a teaspoon’s worth, not a full two-ounce pour of this firewater.

The Tempest  (courtesy of Ryan Maybee, Manifesto)

2oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum

1 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice

1 oz homemade ginger syrup

Eyedropper of 5 pepper-infused Tequila (recipe below)

Combine Rum, lime juice, and ginger syrup in mixing glass, add ice.  Shake vigorously for 15 seconds.  Strain into Collins glass with ice.  Using an eyedropper, drizzle a few drops of 5 pepper infused Tequila over the top of the foam.  Garnish with a lime wheel and piece of homemade candied ginger.

 5 pepper infused Tequila

Using Blanco or Silver Tequila, infuse 1 750ml bottle with 1 sliced Green Bell Pepper, 1 sliced Red Bell pepper, 1 sliced yellow bell pepper, 1 sliced Poblano, and 2 small roasted Habaneros.  On all sliced bell peppers, remove the hearts and seeds.  Infuse for 1 week in a cool, dark place, shaking up occasionally.

Top 5 blog posts from 2009

Although this blog has been in existence for about six months (not a full year), already it’s become clear which posts have been most read (two words: drink recipes!) and most commented upon (more opinionated posts). Expect more of both in 2010. 

Here are the five most-read posts from this blog over the course of 2009:

#1. Hot Stuff: Habanero Simple Syrup – A step-by-step tutorial, with photos. And a post featuring this ingredient, The Dragonfire Cocktail, clocks in around #15 on the most-read list.

#2.  The “Hot Bartender” Syndrome – Should bars be allowed to advertise for “hot female bartenders”?  (Note – this post includes one of my all-time favorite comments:  “Big boobs do not really help me enjoy a crappy cocktail.”  Hear, hear!)

#3. How to become a regular – Like free drinks? Then you need to become a “regular” at your favorite bar. Here’s how.

#4. All about cocktail ice in Food Arts – A wrap-up of one of the hottest trends in the cocktail world: ice.

#5. Drink Recipe: The Fiery Almond – Consensus seems to be that this is among everyone’s favorite cocktails from the Spice & Ice book!

Spice & Ice cocktail contest winners!

Many thanks to everyone who came out to last night’s Spice & Ice event at Trattoria Cinque (and a special thanks to Devin, bartender extraordinaire)!  One of the highlights was our DIY cocktail contest –  we had two winners, Meryl Rosofsky, with The Hot Scrooge, and the Law Librarians of NYC, with Fred (you’ll understand the cocktail name in a moment). Congrats to both, who each took home a copy of Spice & Ice for their tongue-tingling original creations.

The Hot Scrooge, created by Meryl Rosofsky
A perfect name for the holiday season! Meryl describes this drink as a “hot holiday homage” to the classic Screwdriver cocktail. We didn’t have O.J. on hand, so she cleverly subbed in pineapple juice. And get a load of that garnish! 

The Hot Scrooge

lemon wedge, for rim
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder, for rim
4 jiggers pineapple juice
1 jigger vodka
3-4 dashes Frostbite (a clear hot sauce)
1 slice each jalapeno, poblano, and habanero, skewered on a cocktail straw (alternate green and red colors), for garnish
Rub the lemon wedge around the rim of a glass to moisten it. Roll the edge of the glass in the ancho chile powder to coat; allow to dry.
Combine the pineapple juice, vodka, and hot sauce with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Pour into prepared glass and garnish with hot pepper skewer.  Enjoy!
Fred, created by the Law Librarians of NYC 
This drink was a group effort, created by Vicki Szymczak, Janet Peros, George Prager, Kathy David, and Karen Schneiderman. Since this drink heavily features ginger – both crushed fresh ginger and Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur – this drink started as “Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers.” But in the end, the group opted for the simple, wry “Fred.”  Ginger is implied. Get it?

Team Fred

As for the drink itself – the flavor profile is similarly clean and elegant. It reminded me a bit of a zingy, refreshing ginger-limeade, the kind I only wish I could buy at the store.
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. Domaine de Canton
2-3 Tablespoons crushed fresh ginger
lime juice
club soda
garnish – lime wedge
Muddle fresh ginger in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add vodka, ginger liqueur, and lime juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with club soda and garnish with lime wedge.