When it comes to spicy drinks, most of us probably think only about that dash of Tabasco in a Bloody Mary, or perhaps its cousins the Bloody Maria (with tequila) or Bloody Caesar (with Clamato). In the past I've suggested alternatives such as the Veggie Red Snapper and Vampiro, and this past spring I was taken with a Thai cocktail called the Siam Sunray, with muddled Thai peppers and lemon grass.
Newman's ideas, however, have pushed me in new directions. For starters, she has had me infusing lots of spirits with hot peppers. I've infused tequila with jalapeños, vodka with serranos, rum with chipotles, and even apple brandy with habaneros. There definitely has been a lot of trial and error in my kitchen. Though the infusion recipes are basic -- slice pepper, place in a few cups of booze, let sit for a couple of hours -- there is a huge variation in the heat of the peppers. Jalapeños, for instance, can vary between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville units. Habaneros can vary between 100,000 and 350,000.
I'm certain that was a major recipe-writing challenge for Newman, and she even encourages people to use her recipes as jumping-off points and not hard-and-fast formulas. With such variation, I experimented with different volumes of liquor, different amounts of sliced peppers, different infusion times. I also experimented with the spirits themselves. Blanco tequilas work better than reposados. In fact, a lighter, more citrusy tequila such as Don Julio is better for infusing than a more aromatic, earthy tequila such as El Tesoro. With the apple brandy, Laird's Bonded 100-proof stood up to the habanero better than a subtler Calvados did.
Then there was the issue of whether to seed the peppers. I didn't remove the habanero seeds in my first batch of infused applejack, and it was so hot that I needed a fire extinguisher to chase the first sip. But when I seeded my jalapeños, my tequila wasn't very spicy, even after it infused overnight. My conclusion: Experiment. I ended up not seeding, but starting out with slightly less pepper and adding more to taste.
Beyond infusions, Newman presents some interesting recipes, though I found myself tweaking those as well. I liked the Spicy Cucumber Margarita, with muddled jalapeños and cucumber. But I found myself increasing the amount of tequila and double-straining for a nicer drink. I used my habanero-infused apple brandy in a unique cocktail, included here, named the Zapple. Newman calls it a "whiskey sour on steroids"; I turned it into a long drink topped with mineral water.