Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

How to Craft Your Own Spicy Cocktails at Home

Warmer weather means music festivals, pool parties, beaches, and road trips. It’s also a great time to spice up your drink: a hint of heat makes gin, beer, and tequila cocktails feel even more refreshing and creative.

While micheladas, Bloody Marys, and even margaritas are are practically begging for a little Tabasco or sliced jalapeños, why limit yourself? I recently had the opportunity to help judge 15 beautifully crafted spicy cocktails for the national finals of the Booze & Infuse competition at the annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, an homage to all things capsaicin-driven. The variety of drinks — riffs on Martinis, Daiquiris, even Tiki themes — was astounding. “There’s so much more to spicy cocktails than a Bloody Mary,” says Hot Sauce Expo founder Lisa Seabury.

The Expo allows chili-heads the opportunity to sample hundreds of (mostly indie) labels, ranging from sweet to smokey to volcanic, at six cities throughout the country each year. The 15 finalists brought their A game, producing artful, well-balanced drinks under a 90-second speed clock in front of a crowd of about 1,000 hopped-up fans. “We’re like the Slayer concert of cocktail competitions,” Seabury jokes. The winner (New Jersey’s Carlos Ruiz for 2018) scored $5,000. The newest round of regionals are slated for in June at Chicago’s first Hot Sauce Expo.

Drinks are heating up at more buttoned-down spots as well. Liquid Lab, a New York-based cocktail consulting company, offers a very popular Tomato Basil Martini (recipe below) with touch of heat at its private events according to co-founder Parker Boase. At New York’s La Contenta Oeste, bar manager Alex Valencia offers up a wide range of agave-based cocktails all with extra heat. The Mayan (coconut-infused Milagro tequila, housemade corn purée and lime juice) features habanero bitters.

nyc hot sauce expo trophy
NYC Hot Sauce Expo/Facebook

“Hot sauce is a great way to balance out fruity cocktails and give them more depth,” says Boase. “With the martini, we experimented with a bunch of hot sauces, and Tabasco worked the best. I personally put Sriracha on all my food, but for this drink it was too mealy.”

Ready to get creative with your own spicy cocktails? Keep these tips in mind:

Each sauce is different: Anyone who’s tasted through the carousel of options at their local taqueria knows that hot sauces come in a wide range of flavor profiles. According to Boase, “vinegar-based sauces like Tabasco tend to go better with more savory cocktails, while richer sauces like Cholula or Frank’s [Red Hot] work well with fruits like pineapple and watermelon.” Also consider texture (is it a smooth liquid or does it have chopped bits in it?), and any potential food allergies.

Think about making your own sauce: Get creative! Tailor it to your favorite drinks! According to our very own Steven John, it’s “laughably easy.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a plus: Cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and pineapple all counterbalance heat nicely.

Spice can come from the booze: Many of the alcohol sponsors for NYC’s Hot Sauce Expo offered up spirits that bring their own heat. Fireball was there, natch. Tanteo Tequila has tasty jalapeño and habanero-infused expressions. And Rock’d, a new vodka (backed in part by Symphony X and Trans-Siberian Orchestra rocker vocalist Russell Allen), has a Sweet Ghost Pepper flavor. Rather than muddling jalapeños into, say, a Spicy Tequila Sunrise, you could use infused tequila. Ancho Reyes, a spicy-sweet Mexican liqueur made using dried poblano peppers, is another excellent means of turning your drink up to 11.

Spicy Tequila Sunrise/In The Raw

Consider other heat-inducers: Ginger, curry powder, fresh peppers, and black pepper all lend bite (and their own character) to a drink.

Don’t overdo it: You don’t want the sauce to overpower the drink. Treat it the way you would bitters, or an Islay whisky rinse/float. “I usually say less is more, when it comes to hot sauce,” says Boase. “Two or three dashes is usually enough.”

Don’t forget the ice cream: Especially while taste testing and experimenting. Sometimes even the most jaded chili-head faces a lingering pain that just won’t die. Good old vanilla ice cream is the best way to soothe a burning tongue. Added bonus: It’s ice cream!

Let’s get started with a simple recipe you can make at home:

Tomato Basil Martini

(Created by Parker Boase, Liquid Lab, New York City)

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 4 grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 2-3 dashes Tabasco (or similar sauce)
  • Pinch of salt

Method: In a cocktail shaker, muddle tomatoes, basil, and salt. Add the rest of the ingredients. Add ice, then shake and strain into a Martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf and grape tomato.

Editors' Recommendations

Robert Haynes-Peterson
Robert Haynes-Peterson has been covering wine, spirits, cocktails, travel, and luxury lifestyle (you know, all the hard…
Boulevard Brewing Pours Tasty Concoctions Into a Can With Fling Craft Cocktails
Fling Craft Cocktails

Boulevard Brewing has a new side hustle with the launch of Fling Craft Cocktails. Boulevard President Jeff Krum himself called the new ready-to-drink cocktail line a side hustle, only because there are no set business objectives for the cocktails, just a hope they take off.
“This is not anything we bet the farm on,” Krum said. “It’s a fun side hustle, but we think it may take on a life of its own. But we’ve also not sold a single case yet, so we’re not doing X volume by Y date. None of that, we’re just playing and having fun.”
The first four flavors of Fling are Blood Orange Vodka Soda (5 percent alcohol by volume), Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonic (7 percent), Margarita (7.5 percent), and Mai Tai (8 percent). Fling will make a debut at the Kansas City Royals opening day celebration March 28 at Kauffman Field, before hitting national availability in April.

While there’s definitely a fun element for the diversion away from beer for the 30-year-old brewery, Krum also painted a clear strategic business decision with Fling Craft Cocktails. Ready-to-drink cocktails are certainly an up-and-coming segment.
When Boulevard started in 1989, there were approximately 200 breweries in the country and its mere existence made it the second largest brewery in Missouri, behind the world’s largest brewery, St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch.

Read more
Porto Tónicos Should Be On Your Cocktail Radar
porto tonico aperol spritz cocktail wine glass

Porto tónicos have been on the verge being an “it” drink the past few years, but 2019 could be its breakthrough.
James Beard Award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang sees big things in porto tónicos, mostly because she loves them herself. The drink, a combination of white port and tonic water, is a common occurrence throughout Portugal. White port's profile lends itself well to be a replacement for gin as tonic's partner as we all long for sweltering weather. 
“I have been obsessed with porto tónicos for a few years now and my obsession entered into turbo after I visited Portugal last year and we drank at least three apiece every afternoon,” Chang says.

Since returning home, Chang, who hosts events and parties across the country, has started serving porto tónicos at every soiree she throws because of their ease, beauty, and elegance.
Chang suggests spicing them up with a variety of tonics, edible flowers, bowls of berries and sliced citrus, and tall glasses. She also uses pebble ice whenever possible in a one-to-one port to tonic ratio.
White ports are the classic for porto tónicos, but like every cocktail now, the drink has been expanded to include pretty much every variety of the fortified wine. Tonic water is certainly one of the best and most versatile mixers when it comes to clear spirits, but its uses go far beyond the simplicity most are familiar with. As tonics continue to diversify with a variety of expressions, the category's versatility is further opened. 
Chang shared her favorite porto tónicos pairings with The Manual. But first, the recipe:

Read more
Fennel Will Be Your New Favorite Cocktail Ingredient
fennel cocktail This is the Martini You’ve Been Looking For



Read more