I was in Texas this week and was reminded of an old saying: “If I owned both Texas and hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”
I was also reminded that Texans have a unique way of beating the heat, cocktail-wise. While many across the South rely on strong, sweet drinks like the Mint Julep (or Sweet Tea), Texans are prone to mix spice with alcohol and fruit.
There are various theories as to why people in hotter climates eat spicier foods. I like the one that posits that spicy foods make you sweat, keeping you cooler than cold foods. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that the famous influence of Mexican cuisine in Texas is where this originated.
Regardless of origin, most bars and restaurants I’ve frequented in Houston or Dallas or Austin have had at least one spicy cocktail on their menu. And there’s great variety – margaritas that are ginger, chili, cayenne, or red pepper infused. Spicy Sidecars. An Old Fashioned made with pepper-infused bourbon. And plenty of from-scratch original drinks.
Many years ago, I had cocktail at a Ranch 616 in Austin. They called it The Brush Fire. Made solely with Texas ingredients, it was a great balance of strength, fruit, and spice that made for perfect before (and after) dinner sipping on the patio on a hot summer evening. By the way, if you’re ever in Austin, their chicken-fried steak and shrimp tacos are both uniquely satisfying. My mouth is watering right now, and I’m making a note to book a trip.
Ring of Fire
1.5 oz vodka
Shake well and strain into a chilled and half-rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a new (pretty) jalepeno slice.
Chili Salt (for rim)
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Mix and store in an empty old spice bottle.
Inspired by this, I worked on a version that met our tenets: minimize special ingredients, avoid excess steps, and simply presentations. I call my version The Ring of Fire, and for reference you’ll notice it is a lot like a Kamikaze – with a twist.
This is a pretty straightforward drink. Traditionally a Kamikaze is equal parts vodka, Triple Sec and lime juice. By reducing the lime juice, The Ring of Fire is a little less tart and (to me) balances the spice and alcohol level out a bit.
Also, Cointreau is higher-proof than most Triple Secs. And I use it here both because I prefer its taste in any cocktail, and because I simplify my bar by only having the one option. I discuss this and options in my post Orange You Glad…
Please experiment with the ratios to see what you prefer (try mine, then try equal parts). Substitute Triple Sec or Curacao if you have some behind your bar. But the biggest place to adjust the profile of this cocktail is with the jalapeno.
There is more capsaicin in the seeds and pith of any pepper. So, if you like more spice, choose a slice with more seeds. And if you want to minimize the heat, seed or even cut the pith out of the slice you put in the shaker. When making this for friends, I will ask them what their spice preference is and adjust on the fly.
Also, the Chili Salt Rim is spicy and salty. As with most rimmed cocktails, my practice is to rim only half of the glass. That way, your guest can take a sip with or without the seasoning as they desire. You can experiment with the chili salt as well by subbing out the celery salt for more table salt, reducing the amount of cayenne, or playing with the ratios overall.
There are so many things to love about Texas, despite the heat. As a people they are fiercely independent, industrious, adventurous, adaptive, and hard-charging while still appreciating the value of a relaxed dinner and drinks with their friends. So much of this comes from the merging of Mexican and American frontier culture over many decades, and it is a lesson that much of the rest of America could learn from today.
America became great by recognizing the best of the people that immigrated to our shores, internalizing it with our unique culture, and making something better than the sum of the parts. This continues to happen all over our country. And we should celebrate it. It is a significant part of what makes this one of the most amazing places to live on Earth.