Some Like It Hot!
En fuego. It means “on fire,” and it conveys passion or spice. Thanks to ever-evolving slang dictionaries, however, the phrase en fuego now also equates to “awesome” or “hot.” While some may choose to use it as a descriptor, such as “damn, that girl was en fuego,” we believe it should be reserved for epicurean pursuits, namely fiery cocktails. And nothing delivers heat to a cocktail quite like chili peppers.
Today, the jalapeño is cultivated around the world, but it was first grown in Mexico. Named after the Mexican city of Xalapa, jalapeños are harvested in various shades of green and red—although a fully ripened one is always red—and they can accentuate almost any cuisine. As luck would have it, they can also make already indulgent tequila or sherry downright delectable.
Crossing the Border
Ebanos Crossing in Los Angeles began as a speakeasy during the 1920s, and it has since benefited from a surging movement to bring back the sense of sophistication and the mystique that defined that era. Fostering such a spirit of intrigue, the bartenders at Ebanos Crossing have created three cocktails that push pepper-infused spirits into the spotlight. The First Battle of Tabasco blends jalapeño-infused blanco tequila with strawberry shrub, lemon juice, and yellow Chartreuse; the Pueblocita features ancho-chili-infused muscatel sherry, Del Maguey single-village mezcal, fresh-squeezed lemon and grapefruit juice, agave nectar, and pomegranate molasses; and the Thorton Affair (click here for the recipe) serves up some spice with its combination of jalapeño-infused tequila, La Favorite Coeur de Canne rhum agricole, green Chartreuse, and a homemade lime cordial.
Spicing Up Manhattan
When Philip Ward and Ravi DeRossi opened Mayahuel in the East Village in 2009, they aimed to correct New Yorkers’ “misconstrued notions about agave spirits from Mexico.” As the two entrepreneurs state on the establishment’s website, they didn’t want Mayahuel to be just another cocktail bar; they wanted it to be a venue that could showcase tequila for its merits as one of the “most complex spirits on the planet” and mezcal as “an even more complex spirit” that should be the focus of a beverage program.
Close to a dozen cocktails on the Mayahuel menu include pepper-infused spirits, each unique and memorable. Some of our favorites are the Pilot Punch (click here for the recipe), a blend of blanco tequila, jalapeño-infused blanco tequila, yellow Chartreuse, cucumber, mint, lime, and salt; the Spicy Paloma, a jalapeño-infused-tequila cocktail accented by grapefruit juice, lime juice, and a splash of club soda, and served with a salted rim; and El Papagayo, a libation of mezcal infused with chile de árbol and kicked up a notch with Black Strap rum, Campari, pineapple juice, lime, and agave nectar.
Infusing at Home
It’s not impossible to recreate any of the Ebanos Crossing or Mayahuel cocktails at home; all you need is the appropriate infused spirits. While that may sound intimidating, making them is easier than you think. For jalapeño-infused tequila, start with four peppers. Remove the stems, cut the peppers in half, and take out the seeds. Add only the seeds to a liter of tequila; let sit for 20 minutes or to taste. When you’re satisfied, strain out the seeds.
For bar-quality ancho-chili-infused sherry, start with a 750 ml bottle of muscatel and add five dried ancho chilies (stems removed). Infuse the sherry for 24 hours and then strain.