Yes, Valentine’s Day is silly. Yes, it’s a completely manufactured holiday. But there’s no denying that it does have its appealing qualities. For one thing, February 14 always provides a good excuse to spice things up. And that especially applies to whatever is in your glass to toast to romance or lack thereof. Here are a few spicy suggestions to get you out of the usual Champagne-and-cosmo comfort zone.
Chile pepper beer
Brews infused with hot peppers started out as a bit of a gimmick, but it’s evolved into respectable style category all its own in recent years. The best examples are those where the spice works in harmony with the beer’s other components and doesn’t overpower them too much. A reliably delicious one is Chipotle Ale from Oregon’s Rogue. Produced under its Rogue Farms label, Chipotle Ale features ingredients grown on Rogue’s own farm, including those chipotle peppers, as well as the hops and malt. One that’ll likely be a bit harder to find, but definitely worth the hunt was one of the standouts of last fall’s Great American Beer Festival (at least for me): Wake Me Up Before You Gose Ghost Pepper from Strangeways Brewing Co. in Richmond, Virginia. The name’s a mouthful, but the ghost-pepper-enhanced, rum barrel-aged version of its Wake Me Up Before You Gose—Strangeways’s interpretation of the classic, slightly salty, slightly sour German gose style.
Chile pepper vodka
Vodka is about as boring as spirits get. It’s supposed to be flavorless and odorless; most of its base’s character is lost through multiple distillation. However, St. George Spirits in Alameda, California has done wonders with the spirit. Its Green Chile Vodka incorporates jalapeño, serrano, habanero and red and yellow bell peppers, distilling out much of the head-sweating heat while retaining much of their vegetal essence. Your bloody mary needs this vodka now!
Jalapeños and other Scoville –Scale-busting peppers are among the “It” ingredients in mixologists’ repertoires these days. Besides vodka, the chiles go amazingly well with a range of base spirits and other sweet and savory ingredients. Take the Peruvian spirit pisco for instance. The sisters behind the Macchu Pisco brand recommend this mildly kicky concoction:
Salsa Verde Pisco
- 2 ounces of pisco
- 2 ounces of muddled fresh cilantro
- Dash of habanero tincture
- 1 ounce fresh lime
- 1 ounce of citrus syrup
Shake and strain over a salted rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a cilantro clover.
There’s another new Peruvian spirit on the block known as Solbeso, distilled from the pulpy flesh of the cacao pod. The brand’s owners suggest a cocktail known as Beso Picante No. 2:
- 2 ounces of Solbeso
- ¾ ounce of fresh lemon juice
- ¾ ounce of simple syrup
- 2 slices of jalapeño
Muddle the jalapeño in a mixing tin or glass. Add all other ingredients, shake and strain into a double rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a jalapeño slice.
And, since we’re hanging out in South America, let’s swing by Brazil for this twist on the national cocktail, the caipirhina. The team behind the leading brand, Leblon, are big fans of this one:
Cucumber Jalapeño Caipirhina
- 2 ounces of cachaça
- 2 thin slices of English cucumber
- 1 lime wedge
- 1/4-inch slice jalapeño
- ¾-ounce agave nectar
Muddle the jalapeño, lime, cucumber and agave in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and add Leblon cachaça. Shake well and serve in a rocks glass. Garnish with a cucumber wheel.