Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen
Spice & Ice

This year, it feels like the holiday season is a tidal wave: there’s no stopping it, it’s coming awfully fast, and it’s going to wash right over me and sweep everything else away. Do you feel the same way about the holidays? My strategy for handling things: relax, stay organized, and have a good cocktail ready.

I’m planning a “spicy cocktail party” this year to help keep the mood light and festive. Here are a few quick tips for those planning to do the same.

Spicy Dos and Don’ts

• Keep flavors balanced. Heat alone does not make a great drink — use spicy ingredients to enhance and play off other flavors in a drink.

• Wear gloves if you’re cutting hot peppers. A small but important precaution to take, especially when working with habaneros, serranos, and other peppers on the hotter end of the scale. Exposure to chiles – especially oils from the seeds – can irritate cuts or abrasions on your hands.

• Start with less heat – you can always add more! Start with a couple of drops of hot sauce, and taste your drink. Add a little more if the heat level needs more intensity.

• Serve cooling foods to pair with spicy drinks (and vice versa). For example, pair cheese gougeres with a Cajun Martini, or nachos with plenty of sour cream and guacamole with a jalapeno-spiked Blood Orange Margarita.

• Use shriveled old peppers – fresh is best. Just as you shop for the freshest fruits and vegetables, apply the same standards to chile peppers. Younger peppers tend to have more heat and flavor. Look for vibrant color and glossy, smooth skins (except for poblano peppers, which are naturally a bit wrinkly).

• Assume guests can handle heat. It’s tempting to show off an “extreme” cocktail to impress guests, but not everyone enjoys spicy food or cocktails. For parties, consider serving drinks with and without spice-rimmed glasses, or let guests rim their own glasses for fun.

• Rub eyes after cutting peppers – ouch! Trust me on this one. Remove your gloves and wash hands thoroughly before touching your eyes, nose, anywhere else on your face. Should you carelessly forget, apply a cold, wet compress. Although it won’t cause permanent damage, it sure can sting!

• Forget to have fun! Spicy cocktails are a little bit on the flamboyant side – couldn’t be wallflowers if they tried. And that’s what makes them great party guests!

Sample a recipe from Spice & Ice:

Fall Spice Cordial
Yield: 1 drink

Rich with the flavors of orange and vanilla and the caramelized goodness of bourbon, this drink falls more on the spiced than spicy side of the spectrum. This sweet cordial pairs well with autumn pies and other desserts or makes a great sipper to enjoy fireside.

1 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce chipotle-orange syrup
1 ounce vanilla vodka or Navan vanilla cognac
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
Orange peel, for garnish

Mix together all ingredients except for orange peel. Shake together with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Kara Newman
Author of Spice & Ice, 70 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails

Tell us what your favorite spicy and/or fiery drink embellishment is and enter to win a copy of Kara’s book. Click here for more great recipes.

Kara Newman

Kara Newman is the spirits editor at Wine Enthusiast magazine. She also contributes to publications including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Pursuits and, among others. She's the author of Cocktails for a Crowd, also from Chronicle Books.
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