Some of you remember the pawpaw liqueur from last fall’s Shake the hand that feeds you dinner, created by the folks at Highland Estates. These people are not ones to do things by half. Having sampled a chili infused Vodka at the Surly Girl Saloon, they were inspired to attempt some chili infusions at home. They are experienced and creative infusers and certainly not chili infusion novices – their last foray into the dangerous territory of ‘hot’ vodka was a habanero infusion that has been described as incendiary, evil and unforgettable.
As I said, they do not do things by half. Where most people might try an infusion, they bought every type of chili to be found at the North Market and produced five fiery potions.
The infusions were peppadew, jalapeno, serrano, mexican finger and habanero. The peppers were originally infused into about 150ml of 151-proof Everclear (re-distilled through a Pur filter to make it taste better). Then the peppers were removed and the Everclear was diluted down to 80 proof or so with filtered water. Then the diluted Everclear was diluted further with ordinary vodka to lessen the sting. You can tell from the volume in each bottle how much dilution was needed to make the sting tolerable. Except for the habanero bottle… where there just wasn’t room to add more vodka.
A group of fearless friends was summoned with the following missions: Could we survive sampling the green fire water and could any of the infusions be combined into an elixir of note.
Luckily the answer on both counts was yes. These folks are talented mixologists.
We started with a tasting of the infusions neat to get the creative juices flowing. The peppadew was piquant and a little vinegary, the jalapeno had a slightly salad-y note, the serrano had more heat and reminded me of hairspray (I know not why), the mexican finger had a good balance of heat and flavor and surprisingly the habanero did not kill anyone. The milk was deemed unnecessary.
We had an array of potential ingredients, with some interesting liqueurs and bitters and some peanut infused vodka.We played around with the peanut vodka, some of the chili infusions and lime juice but although conceptually it had potential, we never found a winning combination. The habanero seemed to work the best in the mixed drinks as you will see from the results below.
Pictured from left to right the biggest crowd pleasers were:
Amber waves of rye
1 1/2 oz rye
1/2 oz cointreau
1/2 oz habanero infused everclear
dash of angostura bitters
strip of orange zest
This is definitely a cocktail where the sum is greater than the parts. A little heat, a little sweet and a little citrus – this was definitely a popular combination.
Several tasters were convinced there was chocolate in this cocktail. It is a beguiling blend. The rich sweetness deceptively lures you in while the heat sneaks up on you and leaves you with an afterglow.
1/2 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
2 oz peppadew infused everclear
1/2 oz habanero infused everclear
Thin slice of peppadew
Flowery, piquant with some added heat that creates a combination that is both spicy and refreshing.
I was also particularly partial to what I like to call the Mexican Monk, a variation on the Vesper, with one part Mexican finger infused everclear, 3 parts gin and 1/2 part Lillet blanc.
I never realized how hard it is to come up with a catchy and original cocktail name. Much harder than finding a good combination for the infusions.