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As the days get longer, sometimes the best thing to take the edge off a chilly night is a little bit of spice. As luck would have it, pepper-forward spirits are having a moment, good in anything from Spicy Margaritas and zesty Bloody Marys to plain old shots at a tailgate. There’s something about a burst of heat to give your drink a whole new layer. These are six of the hottest spicy spirits on the market today.
This rich and spicy liqueur is based on a 1927 recipe from Puebla, Mexico, a town known for its ancho chiles, which are dried and smoked poblano peppers. For six months, the hand-sliced chiles are left to soak and macerate in small vats of neutral cane spirit. Once the liquid is rested and the flavor is fully matured, the spirit is bottled and ready for drinking, which is where you come in. Ancho Reyes is a natural addition to Margaritas, but it can also add a spicy kick to a variety of other cocktails, including Añejo Old Fashioneds and Palomas.
Breckenridge Distillery founder Bryan Nolt was looking for something different when he entered the spicy-spirit game. He found it with Breckenridge’s Chili Chile Vodka, which combines mirasol chiles from southern Colorado with marash peppers from Turkey. “We wanted some complexity,” he says. “We wanted it to just crush a Bloody Mary but also pair well with chocolate.” In fact, chocolate pairings are one of Breckenridge’s biggest uses for the spirit; the distillery offers the fiery liquor alongside a sampling of hazelnut milk chocolate from Tuscany for members of its exclusive whiskey club, Dark Arts Society.
In addition to its flagship gin, Chicago’s Letherbee Distillers also produces two seasonal gins, one in spring and one in fall. The spring Vernal release is a spicy take on Letherbee’s mainline gin, supplementing the botanical bill with a mixture of poblano and green bell peppers, then steeping the spirit in a mixture of jalapeños and hatch green chiles to give it a spicy kick. “For me, it's all about the bright green aromatics from the poblanos,” says Letherbee founder and head distiller Brenton Engel. “We processed about one ton of peppers that went into 250 cases of gin, or about 3,000 bottles. We cut a lot of peppers that month.”
This organic liqueur uses ingredients like agave and green chile peppers, resulting in a sweet and spicy escape into a Southwestern sunset if ever one fit into a bottle. It’s made by resting another pepper-forward spirit, Rising Sun Colorado Chili Whiskey, for 24 hours on a bed of dried hatch green chiles. That gets sweetened with agave nectar, so the liqueur delivers a sweet heat that’s perfect for Bloody Marys, Spicy Margaritas and Rising Sun’s signature Chili Lemonade. “It makes a really good spritzer,” says brand ambassador Jules Hoekstra. “Just add Italian soda and a little squeeze of lime. All these seltzers are out there right now, but this is 100% organic.”
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Many spirits that are distilled directly from spicy ingredients tend to lose their kick, as the capsaicin doesn’t make it through the distillation process. To account for that, California’s St. George Spirits supplements its green-tinted vodka with four separate pepper-based infusions—some spicy, some not. The result is a sweet, spicy blend of jalapeño, serrano, habañero, and red and yellow bell pepper flavors. Throw in a hint of lime and fresh cilantro, and you have the closest thing out there to a salsa spirit.
If you like your tequila to bite back, Tanteo’s jalapeño-infused bottle may be what you’re looking for. It begins with the brand’s 100% agave blanco tequila, which is available for purchase on its own. But things take a decidedly spicy turn with locally-grown jalapeños, which are hand-chopped and then infused into the tequila with a surprisingly deft touch. The result is spicy, yes, but it’s also sweet and vegetal, showing off the green nature of the peppers alongside the earthy, roasted agave. Enlist this tequila when making Spicy Margaritas, Mexican Mules and Bloody Marias, or drink it as a shot whenever your night needs a wake-up call.