This is the first post from Marleigh Riggins, a print production artist and cocktail enthusiast in Los Angeles. She publishes the blog SLOSHED!
Kara Newman, food and spirits writer with bylines in publications like New York Magazine, Wine Enthusiast and Chile Pepper Magazine, brings “Spice and Ice” to Tales this year. Billed “for adventurous drinkers only,” Kara and her guest mixologists Adam Seger of Nacional 27, Milagro mixologist Charlotte Voisey and Danny Valdez of Commander’s Palace, will be presenting cocktails with unique ingredients that run the gamut from hot sauce and chile peppers to ginger and horseradish. Seminar participants will experience the Mango-Ginger-Habanero Daiquiri, the Ginger & Cilantro Mule, and the One Hot Minute, along with information on what makes a good spicy cocktail, some suggestions on ingredients to add zing to traditional recipes, and even some spicy garnish twists.
I had a chance to ask Kara a few questions about her interest in spice and cocktails, and I even managed to wrangle a recipe so you all can have a sneak preview of the cocktails she’ll be featuring in her seminar.
How did you get started writing about food?
A longtime interest in women’s studies led me to write about food. That evolved into an interest in culinary history, which is still a strong interest for me — I’m on the board of the Culinary Historians of NY (CHNY). I become obsessed with odd topics like icebox cakes or tea-based cocktails (a current obsession), and I find myself researching them, trying out old recipes and creating new variations. I can’t help but write about my obsessions, which is what led me to become a food and wine/spirits writer.
When did you become interested in cocktails, particularly in using spice as a key component?
Blame Dave Wondrich. He was the guest speaker at a CHNY holiday event focused on “The History of Punch.” Audrey Saunders was a guest mixologist, and between Dave’s fascinating discussion and Audrey’s wonderful drinks served out of gorgeous antique punchbowls, I was hooked.As for the spicy part of the equation, about a year ago, I began writing a cocktail column for Chile Pepper Magazine called “High Spirits.” The column focuses on spirits and cocktails with bold flavors, as well as drinks appropriate for pairing with the fiery foods that are a trademark of the magazine. It’s been such a blast to hunt down cocktails that use hot peppers or crazy hot sauces to add flavor, or inventing new drinks like “One Hot Jello Shot” — a gelatin shot with a round of jalapeno encased inside.
Despite your long list of published articles, “Spice and Ice” is your first book. Why did you decide to focus on spice as the core of the book?
In writing the “High Spirits” column, I found that I had more material than I ever could fit into the magazine. Innovative bartenders around the country are crafting drinks with all kinds of spicy elements, and they’ve become more than just a novelty on cocktail menus. And so many of them are delicious, using spice and heat to deliver a warming zing that gets your attention and enhances the flavors of a drink, just as bitters or salty/savory flavors can do. So I set out to write a book, “Spice and Ice,” to show that drinks with a bit of heat also can be balanced and delicious.There will always be macho chile-heads who want an ultra-flaming-hot “I dare you” kind of drink to knock back and brag about surviving. That’s not what “Spice and Ice” is about — although it will have a few of those too, just for fun!
Do you find that specific spirits work better when making spicy (hot) cocktails? What qualities do you look for in ingredients?
Any spirit can work in spicy cocktails. But it also depends what you’re trying to blend with. In general, vodka and tequila (especially reposado tequila) are great matches with all types of spicy elements — hot peppers, hot sauces, horseradish, etc. They meld well with bold flavors without losing their own characteristics. I have more variations on spicy margaritas and bloody marys than I can use for the book, because tequila, fresh produce, and spicy flavors work so well together. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to find how well pepper-infused whiskey and bourbon works, especially with peppers at the hotter end of the spectrum, like habaneros.
What is your favorite spicy/spiced cocktail?
Lately I’m obsessed with the perfect “Hot & Dirty Martini.” Partly because the name sounds so scandalous, and partly because it’s so good when it’s done right. I’ve been marinating pimento-stuffed olives in Tabasco, and adding those to a super-cold classic martini (gin & vermouth). It’s elegant, refreshing, bracing, and you have the extra punch of the spicy olives at the end — without overpowering the whole drink. But for the chilehead crowd seeking the “I dare you element” — all they need to do is mix in a few extra drops of Tabasco to punch it up some more!
Pictured: One Hot Minute; adapted from Jacques Bezuidenhout. This spicy tequila concoction took first place in a 2006 cocktail competition sponsored by the manufacturer of Tabasco Hot Sauce.