Ashley R. is the Head Bartender and Manager at Saint Lawrence Gridiron in Boise, Idaho. She’s known for challenging traditional expectations regarding what a cocktail should be, and having an intuitive understanding of the way flavors interact. She’s currently on a mission to trick her bourbon drinking boss into drinking gin. We’ll keep you posted on that.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the world in thinking that when it comes to food and drink, there’s nothing a little spice or salt can’t elevate. Because of this I was dead set on creating a spicy cocktail that’s spirit forward. Everyone has had a margarita with a spicy twist, but I was looking for something that was a little more geared towards fall. I love habañeros, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to create a cocktail that has a balance of spice, sweet, and full bodied spirits.
I decided habanero simple syrup was needed for this project, and let me tell you, this syrup gave me hell. Working with habaneros is literally like playing with fire. Ask my staff, who were subjected to multiple taste tests. It’s a delicate thing to taste out spicy cocktails, considering it kills your palate almost instantly. After trying at least 5 recipes, I finally found a good balance of the sweetness that habanero peppers provide, without letting their spicy heat overwhelm the syrup.
The devil truly is in the details.
The Bourbon – Everyone knows that James Bond prefers his martinis shaken, not stirred. What isn’t common knowledge is that he prefers Old Grand-Dad in his Old Fashioned.
Morgan Murphy, an American southern food critic, comments: “The sweet corn of this whiskey is hot on the lips but has a mild finish of vanilla and baking spices.”
I consider my creative technique to be more similar to cooking than bartending, and this bourbon is perfect for many of my cocktails because of its flavor complexities. I wanted something bold and well rounded for this drink, something that would play well with the habanero syrup, rum, and scotch. Old Grand-Dad was it.
Old Grand-Dad won’t let you down.
The Rum – I go all out with rum for this, using Gosling’s 151. It’s incredibly hot alone, and in the past I’ve only used it in order to do a heat infusion by lighting the rum in a glass. This is my first time using it as a component in a cocktail. Originally I was using the Gosling’s 80 Proof, but I thought this went best on a big rock instead of up. So now that it’d be in a glass with a large piece of ice, I decided to go for the bolder rum. It has been said that the best cure for spicy food is to sip on some demerara syrup, and for me those flavors are very similar to Gosling’s Dark rum. It’s dark, a little sweet, but still spicy.
The Scotch – Habaneros have the heat and sweetness I was looking for, but I wanted a little smoke to add to this cocktail. Laphroiag 10 is sweet at first, opening up to introduce a savory saltiness along with vanilla and chili. It’s the perfect addition to an already curvaceous build.
The Garnish – To tame this beast, I was looking for something herbal and light. Cilantro was the CindyLouWho to my Grinch in this case. It adds a beautiful touch to the nose of the drink, and brings out a little more in the habaneros. I do a rub on the glass, after finding out that if the cilantro is left in the cocktail it starts to lean towards something similar to Chloraseptic.
For the syrup:
- 5 habanero peppers
- 1 red bell pepper
- 4 cups demerara sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- GLOVES (very important)
USING GLOVES (habaneros are extremely spicy and will set your entire body in flames if they come in direct contact) cut open 4 of the habenero peppers, and pull out the seeds. Chop into bigger chunks, and set aside.
Cut the last pepper in half, leaving the seeds in, and set aside.
Chop the red pepper into 5 rings, and set aside with the Habaneros.
Bring the water up to a simmer, and slowly stir in the demerara sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, toss in the peppers and cinnamon stick. Simmer for 10 minutes, adding a little more time if a spicier syrup is desired. Once done, remove the cinnamon stick and pour the syrup (peppers and all) directly into containers. I allow the peppers to sit in the syrup overnight, in order to get more spice. Remove peppers the next day.
For the cocktail:
- 1.5 oz Old Grand-Dad
- .50 oz Gosling’s Black Seal 151 Rum
- .50 oz Habanero Syrup
- 1/2 tsp Laphroiag 10
- pinch of cilantro
Put everything but cilantro in a tumbler over ice. Stir. Rub the inside of a chilled glass with cilantro and discard. Using a julep strainer, strain the cocktail into a double old fashioned glass, over a big rock.