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Robb Report Vices

New York Libations that Bring the Heat

Tara Fougner

When the temperature rises, it’s not uncommon to turn to cocktails that are both cold and refreshing; however, it seems that more and more imbibers are eschewing that custom and ordering drinks that turn up the heat. Adventurous palates have long pushed the limits of the Scoville scale, which has led to cult followings for many hot sauces, and it’s worth noting that capsaicin—the substance that makes chili peppers hot—has been proven to release endorphins. It’s only natural then that we see the desire for spice sliding from food to drink; after all, a good drink is nothing if not pleasurable.

The recent rise of spicy beverages goes way beyond mass-produced flavored vodkas or a few extra dashes of Tabasco sauce in a Bloody Mary. Craft bartenders and spirits makers are getting more inventive and experimenting with ingredients, not to mention Hellfire bitters and chili-infused spirits. “Fiery spice in a cocktail is a great way to complement the summer heat,” says Dev Johnson, principal bartender at Employees Only. “Elements of heat should be used to accentuate or contrast the flavors in the cocktail, but the use of fiery spice in drinks can be like that friend who is very intense—if you aren’t careful, it just takes over.”  

In an attempt to serve that growing appetite for fiery libations, cocktail establishments across NYC are adding supremely spicy cocktails to their menus. There’s no shortage of options, but we recommend the following, all of which heat things up and bring the pain . . . in a good way.

  • If you’re seeking something spicy at RedFarm or Decoy on Hudson Street, ask bartender Shawn Chen for an Elixir. The vodka-based cocktail includes serrano chili pepper, fresh wasabi, Suze Gentiane Liqueur, Giffard Crème de Pamplemousse Rose, and fresh lemon.
  • At Employees Only on Hudson Street, order the Lazy Lover, a concoction of cachaça and jalapeño-infused green Chartreuse that’s shaken with Bénédictine, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar.
  • The NoMad, at 1170 Broadway, serves up spice in the Satan’s Circus, a libation made up of rye whiskey, Thai bird chili–infused Aperol, Cherry Heering, and lemon.
  • For the times when you feel the need to disappear, take a seat at the bar at the Wayland and order an Off the Grid—a pisco cocktail accented by habanero, jicama juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and cilantro.
  • With dishes that include sautéed grasshoppers and grilled cactus pads, the Black Ant in the East Village is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re feeling adventurous and in need of a kick, swagger up to the bar and order an Ant Girl, a mixture of reposado tequila, Cointreau, banana, and habanero shrub bitters that’s finished with a cayenne-caramel rim.
  • At Kin Shop on the Avenue of the Americas, there are a half dozen specialty cocktails on the menu, but if spice is what you’re after, only the Smokin’ Berry will do. It mixes organic mezcal with Domaine de Canton, lime juice, Thai chili syrup, and strawberry puree.
  • The Spicy Paloma served at the Stone Rose Lounge on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center is just as its name implies. It features Casamigos blanco tequila, Thai chili Aperol, grapefruit juice, and soda water. There’s no telling where the night may lead when Casamigos is involved. Don’t believe us? Click here to learn more.

This list wouldn’t be complete without a Bloody Mary, and we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight Prune on East First Street. The restaurant offers 10 varieties, including a Southwest iteration enhanced by Herradura añejo tequila, chipotle peppers, and lime juice, but you also can’t go wrong with the Green Lake, Prune’s classic recipe with a twist—a huge glob of fresh wasabi.

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