The Ile Rouge (which in French means Red Island), is a spicy and sweet drink made with tequila, peppercorns, grapefruit juice and vanilla liqueur. Developed by drinks consultant Aisha Sharpe, the cocktail is an exercise in balance. Vanilla and tequila marry well together, as do tequila and grapefruit, and heat is a popular element in drinks made with agave liquors. While it’s unusual to see all four elements sharing a glass, it works well, as the crispness of the citrus and earthiness of tequila balance the rich sweetness of the vanilla liqueur, which in turn tempers the heat from the crushed peppercorns.
For tequila and, somewhat less so, for vanilla liqueur there are plenty of options to choose from. A blanco tequila or reposado are the best in regards to age, as the richness and smokiness of an añejo can overwhelm the other ingredients—plus, its darker hue will make the red of the drink less vivid. And, of course, a low-quality tequila means a low-quality cocktail, so it’s wise to go with a mid-shelf brand, at least. For the vanilla liqueur, Giffard‘s Vanille De Madagascar Liqueur is a solid choice, but others on the market can work.
With any shaken cocktail, it’s best to double strain the Ile Rouge: In addition to the strainer built into a three-piece shaker or a Julep or Hawthorne strainer that goes over the mouth of a shaker tin, using a small kitchen strainer will help catch all the shards of ice and any juice pulp, and keep your shaken drink clean and pretty. But with this drink it’s especially important, as it will catch the shells of the crushed peppercorns, keeping them from adding bitterness or, worse, crunch to your otherwise pristine cocktail.
Finally, the drink is garnished with an “island” of pink peppercorns, from which it derives its name. It takes a steady hand but if they’re each carefully dropped in, they should float together to create the eponymous red island. As elegant as it is, try to avoid swallowing them whole when enjoying the final product.
- 15 pink peppercorns
- 1 ounce tequila
- 1 ounce vanilla liqueur
- 3/4 ounce ruby red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- Garnish: pink peppercorns
Muddle the peppercorns in a shaker.
Add the vanilla liqueur, tequila, grapefruit juice and lemon juice to the shaker and fill with ice.
Shake and double-strain into a chilled Martini glass.
Garnish with a few more peppercorns, floating them on the surface like a peppery island.