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Heat Wave: Mixologists Dub Spice The Growing Flavor Trend In Beverage

The following story was recently featured in ON THE TABLE™, a supplement to GOURMET INSIDER®. The brand just debuted a new look and new content, which can be seen in full in the July/August 2018 edition. 

Cocktail and mocktail making is an art form, one that consumers are increasingly taking home from the bar and bringing into the kitchen. But, the heat is on mixologists and home entertainers alike — literally. Cocktails and mocktails are becoming multidimensional and complex with the addition of heat-inducing ingredients like various peppers, spices and even hot sauce.

Julia Momose, a Chicago-based mixologist has been mixing up cocktails and mocktails (which she refers to as “spiritfrees,”) with a hint of heat, telling ON THE TABLE™ that a bit of heat can bring any drink, alcoholic or not, to a new level.

“The texture and sensations spicy peppers can provide to a drink are a welcome added layer of complexity,” she said. For example, she explained that capsaicin, the active component in pepper that gives the sensation of spice, is helpful in providing more dimension to a drink when used in varying levels.

“Some chilis, such as jalapeños, have perceivable flavor next to the spice. These spicy treats pair wonderfully with sweet fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, mango and melon,” she said.

Amir Babayoff, head bartender at Ophelia, located in New York, NY, agreed that adding some heat to a cocktail or mocktail is trending and explained there are a few methods that consumers can dabble in at home, with the right tools of course.

“Heat/spiciness can be added to a cocktail in various methods through different ingredients or forms of the same ingredients,” he said. “For example, we muddle jalapeños to make spicy margaritas. By muddling a slice of jalapeño or any spicy pepper with the spirit, we create a fast infusion where the molecules of the spirit are mixed with the molecules of the pepper. With the example of the classic margarita, you can muddle the jalapeño with the sweetener additive (agave) and by that increase the spiciness of the entire cocktail while shaken in the shaker. Just strain before pouring to avoid solids in the drink.”

Another method that Babyoff said he uses at the restaurant that consumers can also try at home is long-term infusion.

“We steep Jamaican peppers into mezcal for the Ophelia’s Ascension cocktail. Consumers can easily use the long-term infusion method at home. All they need is the spirit, the herbs, a glass jar and patience. Tasting the spirit on a daily basis is crucial since it could become bitter if you leave it to infuse for too long — especially with herbs,” he explained. Matt Piacentini, owner of The Up & Up and Stay Gold, both located in New York, NY, has also been adding heat to cocktails and suggests that consumers looking to do the same start in the kitchen.

“A great thing to do is play with peppercorns. Find a good spice store, and try all the different varieties of peppercorns. Hot sauce is available at all stores. Ancho Reyes and Verde should be available at any good liquor store,” he said.

A simple way he said he likes to incorporate some spice is to dust the top of a drink with cayenne or another spice. This, he explained, puts the heat directly on the lips, but leaves the actual liquid as is.

“Hot sauce is another popular option, especially if you want to add a pepper or a savory flavor to the drink. Fresh ginger is quite spicy and we also use a black pepper tincture for some drinks as well. This is made by using a high-powered blender to mix black peppercorns with a neutral grain spirit and filtering out the solids.This produces a very peppery heat that hangs around and shows up mostly on the finish,” he stated.

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