Some like it hot (like me!), and if there’s one thing I can’t resist it’s a spicy craft cocktail. Hot food and drink really is like a drug for me: insanely addictive, and once I stop I just keep craving more. And as someone who puts hot sauce on their toast, and who’s also dedicated their life to booze (I’m a certified sommelier, after all), I decided to give myself a mission: find the best spicy cocktails in the city. Without further adieu, here are some of my top picks for New York City’s best spicy cocktails.
Ma La Rita
1. Ma La Rita
Yunnan Kitchen, Lower East Side
Yunnan Kitchen serves the “Ma La Rita,” featuring Cabeza tequila, grapefruit, Sichuan peppercorn, chilies and agave. The ingredients are perfectly poured into a glass rimmed with Yunnan Kitchen’s signature Ma La spice mix with salt. The term “ma la” in Chinese literally means “numbingly spicy,” a fitting description for this sweat-inducing drink. The housemade Ma La spice at Yunnan Kitchen is a mix of dried chilies, green Szechuan peppercorns, red Szechuan peppercorns, cumin and salt, which Chef Doron Wong has been using on meats, veggies and even desserts — Ma La ice cream first numbs the tongue then cools it down — since he joined the Yunnan team in February 2014. A foray into spicy cocktails was only natural. “It’s simple but definitely bold and different,” says Yunnan Kitchen owner Erika Chou.
Thai Me Up. Photo courtesy of Noah Fecks.
2. Thai Me Up
Ngam, East Village
A spicy libation created by Chef Hong Thaimee, the “Thai Me Up” is a Michelada with a modern twist, featuring a splash of Champagne to make it slightly more effervescent and refreshing. The lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf offer a Thai twist on a traditional Michelada, which normally relies on lime juice as a citrus base. Explains Chef Hong Thaimee, “The Thai Me Up is a cheeky twist on a Michelada as we add a touch of Champagne to make it bubbly. Then we add the Thai ingredients, including lemongrass, kaffir lime, chili as well as other Thai Spices in the aromatic herb syrup. This makes the drink spicy, but it’s perfectly paired with the Singha beer which cools it down and makes it refreshing.”
Smoke N Spice
3. Smoke N Spice
Decoy, West Village
This cocktail packs some heat with Thai Chili-infused Fidencio Mezcal, pineapple, Aperol, Sriracha bitters and lime. The mix of the Thai Chili-infused Mezcal along with the Sriracha bitters gives the cocktail a smokey spice that hits you in the back of your throat while the pineapple acts as a sweet cooling element. Says Casey Wallin, creator of the Smoke n Spice, “With people becoming more and more cocktail savvy I love it when you give someone a cocktail and they try to deconstruct it into it’s basic ingredients. When I created the ‘Smoke and Spice’ I wanted to make a cocktail that stimulated a sensory experience. So when you taste the cocktail you get a perfect balance of the feeling of spice (Thai chili) and the tastes of sweet (pineapple), sour (lime) and bitter (Sriracha bitters/Aperol).”
Fire Cracker. Photo courtesy of Myme Media.
4. Fire Cracker
BTH Restaurant & Lounge, West Harlem
BTH, which stands for By The Hudson, is working to turn West Harlem into a premier dining destination by pairing innovative New American dishes and craft cocktails with Hudson River views. One menu highlight for those who like it hot is the “Fire Cracker,” a cocktail created by General Manager and Bartender Johnny Di Iorio featuring Tito’s Vodka, a splash of fresh lemonade and fresh watermelon, balanced by fresh basil and cayenne pepper. What’s great about this cocktail is it packs tremendous flavor, a delicious balance of spice, citrus and sweet. Says Di Iorio, “My inspiration for designing the cocktail came by accident. I was cooking while drinking Tito’s vodka and lemonade. Cayenne pepper accidentally went into the drink and when I sipped it, surprisingly it was delicious. I wanted to dig deeper and evolve the concoction, wanting to incorporate a bursting sense of sweetness on the palate finished with spice. So, I added watermelon and the ‘Fire Cracker’ was born.”
Jazz at Kitano, Midtown East
While cilantro is something you’ll usually find on meats as a seasoning, at Jazz at Kitano it’s also found in a spicy cocktails. The “Cilan-tini” is a layered drink with chile-pepper, tomato, cilantro and citrus juices. Not only is it light and fresh compared with many other cocktails, its also packed with vitamins for a healthy (and hot!) punch. Says Yasuyuki Kojima, Director of Food & Beverage, ““We were inspired to create the Cilan-tini as a play on healthy cocktails with a little bit of kick. A savory martini offered in JAZZ at KITANO, the Cilan-tini is the perfect alternative to a Bloody Mary for brunch!” _________________________________________________________________________________
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6. Rio Bravo
The Skylark, Midtown West
Created by Mixologist Johnny Swet, the “Rio Bravo” is made with Dos Amigos Reposado Tequila, Ancho Chili Liquor, muddled grilled tomatillos, agave, cilantro and lime. Each sip of this spicy creation packs a flavorful punch that balances heat with subtle touches of sweetness, offering a great complement to the cool fall weather. Says Swet, “The Rio Bravo was inspired by my Dad, who was a huge John Wayne fan. Growing up I must have seen that movie at least 20 times and I was always intrigued by the landscape of the Southwest. This drink has all those flavors from spicy ancho chili to tomatillos and tequila.”
7. Santana’s Sour
Hyatt Times Square’s Bar 54, Times Square
Created by mixologist Julie Reiner, this tasty concoction features Cabeza Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, jalapeno syrup, cilantro leafs, pineapple chunks and a garnish of pineapple stick and leaf. The tequila is the star of the show, made with 100% estate-grown agave, cultivated without pesticides in the Los Altos region in Arandas, Jalisco, Mexico. As you sip the full bodied cocktail, you’ll undoubtedly detect intoxicating flavors of agave and jalapeno spice — perfect for those with an adventurous palate. Says Reiner, “The ‘Santana’s Sour’ is a beautiful cocktail showcasing one of my favorite tequilas on the market, Cabeza Blanco. Tequila pairs beautifully with savory ingredients such as cilantro and jalapeño. This drink has just the right amount of heat without being too spicy. We make the jalapeño syrup in house, so we are able to control the spice. The addition of pineapple to the drink gives it a bright fruity note, as well.”
8. 8-Layer Dip
Hill Country Barbecue, Downtown Brooklyn & NoMad
This liquid explosion of layered flavor — eight, to be exact — was created to reflect what Hill Country Barbecue does with their meats. The bar team experimented with all sorts of ingredient combinations until they found something to be proud of. The “8-Layer Dip” packs pickle slices, pickled jalapenos, Tito’s Vodka, Tanteo Jalapeno Vodka and a smoked tomato juice infused with hot sauce, salt, pepper and citrus into a smoked salt-rimmed Mason Jar garnished with olives skewers and lime wedges. Like your favorite spicy party dip — that you can drink (and get buzzed from!). Says Mixologist and Creator Marc Glosserman, “You’ll notice a lot of smoked ingredients, and our inspiration was to have our customers enjoy smoked meat with an equally delicious and spicy smoked cocktail to wash it down with. If you couldn’t already tell, this goes great with our brisket.”
Smoke and Fire Margarita
9. Smoke And Fire Margarita
Hakkasan, Hell’s Kitchen
Classic margaritas are known for the sweet and tangy taste; however, with the “Smoke and Fire Margarita” you’re also adding savory and spicy elements that take the traditional libation to a new level. Featuring Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, Montelobos Mezcal, Milagro Silver Tequila, fresh lime juice and agave nectar, you’ll notice heavenly notes of tamarind, plum, cacao, apple and almonds — even some fine herbs. On the finish there’s a pleasantly lingering pungent taste. Says drink creator Camille Austin of Hakkasan,“ The ‘Smoke and Fire Margarita’ has the perfect balance of spicy, savory and sweet taste that every great margarita should have.”
Enquiry into Plants
10. Enquiry Into Plants
Davio’s Manhattan, Midtown East
Named after the first botany book ever written by Theophrastus (c. 370-c. 285 BCE), this cocktail features Del maguey mescal infused with habanero and jalapeño, asparagus simple syrup, Cynar dry vermouth and lemon, topped with shaved raw asparagus. Agave (mezcal) and asparagus come from the same family of plants. Cynar was added because it’s made from artichokes, which have a chemical that temporarily suppress the taste buds that detect sweetness, meaning the ingredient downplays that natural sweetness of the asparagus and the mezcal. The libation has a smoky/ spicy taste with the amaro adding a bitterness and the fresh (not cooked) asparagus adds a grassy kick. What makes it unique in new york is that is that it’s more of a science experiment driven from an.understanding of where the ingredients come from…as opposed to trying to pair the ingredients you have with flavors. Says Bar Manager, Jennifer Schubert, “The inspiration came from my curiosity of asparagus and agave since they are from the same plant family . I wondered what they would taste like and how I could make them go together.”
Le Green Go
11. Le Green Go
Bagatelle NY, West Village
This tasty play on words cocktail was created by Mixologist Brice Mastroluca and features Mezcal Illegal, elderflower liquor, green chartreuse, fresh squeeze lime juice, a star anise and lime wheel garnish and, the ingredient that brings the heat, a ghost pepper salted rim (!). There’s an interesting contrast of flavors with the drink, which was originally created for spring; however, it was so well received they kept it on the menu.
Mastroluca suggests pairing the Le Green Go cocktail with refreshing foods like a salmon tartar or a nice ceviche flavored with cilantro. Something acidic like oysters with a mignonette sauce would also go nicely. Says Mastroluca, “I wanted to create a margarita-like cocktail with flavors that were both spicy and herbal. Being from the French Alps which is home to the elderflower and green chartreuse, it made perfect sense to combine these sweet herbal flavors with the smokiness of mezcal.”
Have you sampled any great spicy cocktails in NYC? Please share your favorites in the comments below.