A great margarita or tequila drink never goes out of style. Long a staple at the ever-growing legion of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, tequila has also been embraced and elevated by the craft cocktail movement, with great results. One tasty sub-genre is the spicy cocktail, typically infused with hot peppers and myriad spices.
Indeed, spicy tequila drinks are among my favorites at area craft cocktail bars. I love the flavor, heat and inventiveness of the Spicy Lover at Kapow! in Boca Raton, the Mexican Cockfight at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach, and The Hutchins at Hullabaloo in West Palm Beach. But especially, I love the heat.
Not every bar can pull this off, however. On a recent visit to an acclaimed pizza palace, I was sorely disappointed by an attempt at a spicy tequila drink that was mixed with cheap tequila and bottled juices, then topped with a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. Ugh. But it’s possible to whip up some quality, heat-packed tequila drinks quickly without an elaborate array of peppers and spices.
The secret is to use some of the spiced syrups that have appeared on the market in recent years. Of course, there’s nothing better than fresh ingredients. But making your own syrups and infusions, or even chopping and muddling peppers, can be time-consuming and unwieldy. And unless you’re experienced with these ingredients, you also run the risk of making wildly erratic drinks. These gourmet syrups ensure consistency, quality and ease of use that will make mixing up a spicy tequila drink a whole lot easier.
Two syrups that I recently added to my bar are Monin’s Habanero Lime premium gourmet syrup and Torani’s Sweet Heat syrup (featuring ghost peppers). Both are highly recommended and inspired me to whip up a couple spicy cocktails. I also picked up a bottle of the highly-rated Milagro silver tequila for the occasion. It’s produced to high standards in Jalisco, the heart of tequila country. Feel free to use your favorite blanco tequila in these drinks. The only other ingredients you’ll need besides the syrups are fresh limes and lemons, fresh mint, and a quality light agave nectar. You’ll want to use light tequila and agave so those flavors don’t overwhelm the hot and sour notes.
HABANERO LIME MARGARITA
(featuring Monin’s Habanero Lime premium gourmet syrup)
A re-interpretation of the Walt Disney World cocktail by Hurricane Hayward
* 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce light agave nectar
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce Monin Habanero Lime syrup
The mix: Shake with a half cup of crushed ice and pour into a small margarita or specialty glass (salted rim optional). Garnish with a lime wheel. (Note: I prefer no salt, but for many this is essential, so follow your preference.)
The review: Refreshing, spicy and sour with just the right amount of heat. Great balance of flavors allows the lime, habanero and tequila to all shine through. This is the way Disney World bartenders should be making this drink.
The featured product: Habanero Lime is one of many gourmet syrup flavors from Monin, the international company that started 100 years ago in France. It includes pure cane sugar with natural lime and pepper flavors. The syrup is highly concentrated, featuring heat and flavor from the fruity, citrus-like habanero pepper. There’s another tasty margarita recipe on the bottle, plus more on Monin.com. You can find it in liquor stores, gourmet groceries and online sites such as Amazon.
The drink: It’s a tribute to the growth of Disney World’s standard cocktail menu in recent years that the Habanero Lime Margarita (added in 2010) is even offered. Various margaritas have always been a staple, but adding heat and spice to the typically generic drinks is a new development. Regular visitors craving a great tequila drink at the Orlando theme parks know to patronize La Cava del Tequila, the excellent bar in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. But at many other Disney World bars, the Habanero Lime Margarita is a great option, and it’s one of Mrs. Hurricane’s favorites. However, it can sometimes come off as bland and not very spicy.
One recipe I saw online says it contains a lot of sweet and sour mix with just a drizzle of the habanero syrup and only half a lime. When we noticed that the drink was coming out particularly spicy at the Tambu Lounge at the Polynesian Resort, we asked the bartender why. He pointed to a faulty pump on the syrup bottle. Apparently the staff routinely added a couple extra pumps to ensure a good drink. My tip would be to always ask for an extra spicy version while at a Disney World bar. At home, I’d recommend the version above, which pumps up the lime and habanero and cuts back on the sweet and sour (lemon and agave nectar, which is preferred to a bottled mix). If it’s too spicy, just adjust the syrup to taste.
THE GHOST HOST
(featuring Torani’s Sweet Heat syrup)
An original cocktail by Hurricane Hayward
* 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila
* 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce Torani Sweet Heat syrup
* A sprig or two of mint
The mix: Shake with a handful of ice cubs and strain into a small cocktail glass. Double-strain through a wire mesh strainer if you wish to remove all the mint. I like the bits of mint in the drink, but some may not. Also feel free to add a salted rim to the glass.
The review: A great initial burst of heat is followed by sweet and sour flavors, tempered by the cooling mint. The heat is intense, but it doesn’t linger, making you want to sip and sip again. Beware: This clears the sinuses and tingles the throat, but in a good way.
The featured product: Sweet Heat is a new flavor from Torani, the San Francisco gourmet syrup company that dates back to 1925. It successfully combines the fiery heat of ghost peppers (reputedly the world’s hottest) with the sweetness of pure cane sugar. It delivers as promised, creating a flash of heat but also a “pleasant, lingering smolder.” The syrup also has many non-alcoholic uses, with an archive of recipes listed on Torani.com. You can find it in liquor stores, gourmet groceries and through Torani’s online store.
The drink: This is a simple showcase for the syrup, which doesn’t need much embellishment. The lime and mint help quell the heat, but if it’s too overwhelming just dial back the syrup a bit. You could also serve this on the rocks so the ice chills and dilutes it. But if you’re a heat junkie, you’ll want to try it straight-up with your best tequila and feel the burn.