A life without spice would be unbearably bland. But in cocktails, it's a flavor that can be difficult to hone. If a pepper is shaken or muddled for too long, or if the other ingredients in the mix don’t balance the spice properly, you may very well consume a drink that will either scorch your throat or leave you disappointed. Get the balance right, though, particularly in the areas of sweetness and dilution, and you’ll have a drink of flavor intricacies that will leave you wanting more.
These are 10 of our favorite spicy cocktails.
This variation on the classic Margarita has cemented itself in the cocktail-culture mainstream, and for good reason: It’s the perfect marriage of sweet, spicy, sour, and vegetal flavors that makes it both complex on the palate and remarkably easy to drink. Blanco tequila is paired with an equal split of orange liqueur and agave syrup for sweetness, while fresh lime juice provides balance and jalapeño peppers lend their heat. A few pepper slices get tossed into the mixing tins and shaken with the liquid ingredients for the drink’s quintessential spicy character.
If rum is your go-to spirit for sour cocktails, then this Daiquiri-adjacent cocktail is right up your alley. Aged rum gets paired with orange liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice, and simple syrup, then taken up a notch with a pinch of cayenne pepper powder for an unmissable kick, but the spice is tamed by the fresh juiciness of muddled watermelon.
This mezcal-based refresher has as its essential element (you guessed it!) a ripe bell pepper.
The earthy and vegetal notes and smoky character of mezcal is enhanced with a bell-pepper puree, cilantro, lemon juice, and agave syrup. It makes for a great Taco Tuesday pairing as well as an unexpected brunch drink.
Hot in Rio
Cachaça, the dry, earthy Brazilian rum made from fresh pressed sugarcane juice, stars in this drink dedicated to Brazil’s Carnival celebrations. It’s made in the style of the most classic cachaça cocktail, the Caipirinha. The difference here is that instead of muddling only lime wedges, chile slices get added to the mix, along with a pinch of salt and some agave syrup. The end result is a mixture that’s grassy, citrusy, and spicy, and ready to be guzzled.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
With the flavors of Peru in mind, El Volcán showcases one of the country’s most ubiquitous peppers, the ají amarillo, which gets infused into gin. The resulting spirit is split with mezcal to form the cocktail’s base. Aperol is added to the mix, along with a sweet-sour balance of lime and agave syrup for a nuanced drink that doesn’t shy away from bold flavors.
Pineapple Jalapeño Margarita
This recipe produces a riff on the classic Margarita with a bit of spice balanced by juiciness. It separates itself from the traditional Marg formula with the use of a reposado tequila instead of blanco, along with some fresh pineapple juice, pineapple chunks, and jalapeño slices. It’s satisfying in both its freshness and its complexity.
The Bloody Mary has been fighting hangovers since the mid-1930s, and its success in doing so has spawned several variations from the gin-spiked Red Snapper to Canada’s national drink, the Clamato-laced Bloody Caesar. The Bloody Maria, however, makes a strong case for dethroning the classic, with its agave-spirit base. There’s a long list of ingredients to create this cocktail, but once you go Bloody Maria, you’ll never go back. Pro tip: Try using mezcal instead of tequila for the smoky-savory-spicy cocktail of your dreams.
The Michelada is the godfather of savory beer cocktails. And, like the Bloody Mary, it will help your hangover, but in a more gentle way. It’s simple to make: Take your favorite lager and add salt, lime juice, and hot sauce; additional spices are optional but will make it even more delicious.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
El Rey del Patio
The El Rey del Patio is basically the cocktail version of salsa verde in the style of a Michelada. This riff uses a puree of refreshing cucumbers, blistered tomatillos and jalapeños, lime juice, black pepper, and hot sauce. The ingredients are processed in a blender to create a mix that’s easily combined with your favorite lager or pale ale. You can keep the batch of food ingredients in the fridge for up to a few days, so it’s easy to prep and even easier to drink.
This punnily named take on the tiki classic cocktail Mai Tai was created by bar pro Jim Meehan, the co-founder of PDT in New York City and Hong Kong and the founder of Portland, Oregon’s izakaya Takibi. The drink gets its spice from a Thai chili pepper that gets muddled with Grand Marnier. Instead of the Mai Tai’s typical orgeat, this cocktail calls for coconut milk, which helps mute the intense heat that the Thai pepper brings to the drink. As those ingredients combine with rum and lime and pineapple juices, this drink edges closer to a Piña Colada, rendering it a mix of multiple tropical classics.