Hot honey has found itself drizzled across pizza, coated on fried chicken, and served beside cheeses and cured meats on many a charcuterie board. The makeup of hot honey is simple: A honey base is infused with chili peppers for a spicy flavor punch. The juxtaposition of flavor has made it a cult classic that has gained steam going into this year. Monin, a premium flavoring company known for coffee and cocktail syrups, named it the 2023 Flavor of the Year; Maille Mustard launched a hot honey Dijon; even Trader Joe’s recently got in on the hot honey trend. It should therefore come as no surprise that the beloved condiment is making its way into cocktail glasses.

“Normal honey lends itself to a cocktail the way that agave syrup or simple syrup does in relation to sweetness,” says Gary Mennie, food and beverage director at The Mills House in Charleston, S.C. “Adding hot honey to a cocktail will provide a sensual sweet and spicy combination.”

Hot New Takes

Hot honey is one of those ingredients that has made its way over from the culinary world. One of the positives about this? Sippers already know — and possibly have an affinity for — the ingredient and are more apt to give hot honey beverages a whirl. It also allows those mixing up cocktails to have a starting point when building a new drink menu or when looking to impress guests.

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.

“People in our line of work are always looking for something to push the envelope and give you a new experience,” says Sam Connors, beverage director of Kimpton Alma San Diego. When looking to keep it fresh, mixologists and bartenders often draw inspiration from the classics while adding their own unique twists. Hot honey can spice up the flavor profiles of classic drinks like a Margarita, Penicillin, and more without requiring a bartender to exponentially change the recipe — though it will exponentially elevate a drink.

“A cocktail made with hot honey is perfect for people who love a little bit of spice, but it’s still on the lighter side. I think that many people would be pleasantly surprised by what this ingredient can add to a cocktail,” says Zoe Woodsum Zilian, founder and owner of cocktail bar Au Comptoir in Woodstock, Vt. She recommends using hot honey in a kicked-up version of a Bee’s Knees or as a sweetening agent in a spicy Paloma.

As for brown spirits, “proceed with caution.” She says bourbon cocktails that swing on the more robust side run the risk of becoming too heavy with a hot honey addition. “The honey is rich and so is the bourbon, so the layering of the richness may be too much,” she says. But if a bourbon tipple is lightened up with club soda and orange liqueur, hot honey could add a bit of texture as well as a hint of flavor that would be a surprise and delight for sippers.

Teddy Murphy, food and beverage operations manager at The Ritz-Carlton in McClean, Va., says that hot honey would be a perfect enhancement to a Gold Rush, a classic cocktail made with bourbon, honey, and lemon.

“Classic cocktails that call for honey gain a new dimension of flavor with the inclusion of hot honey,” he says. “Using honey imparts a floral and richer sweetness than a simple syrup would provide. Hot honey brings with it an elevated spice, especially when used in citrus-forward tipples.”

The latter, he says, balances cocktails in a different way — the palate is first met with a spicy burn, followed by refreshing acidity from fresh citrus and the complexity and depth of your spirit of choice. Sour cocktails, too, are brought to life with hot honey, Murphy says, noting that “adding hot honey to a classic sour cocktail checks off all the boxes for a great drink.”

Allen Lancaster, head bartender at The Bar at The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, also notes that swapping crushed sugar cubes for hot honey would make an interesting spin on an Old Fashioned. “It works best with heartier spirits like tequila, bourbon, or ryegin is a little more delicate, and heat tends to overrun botanicals,” he says. Lancaster is currently working a Nashville Hot Chicken-inspired cocktail into The Bar’s lineup, made with chicken fat-washed pechuga mezcal, hot honey, and citrus.

Tips and Tricks

While one might think to treat hot honey the same as regular honey in cocktails, there are a few key differences to note when using the ingredient in a drink.

“Hot honey is a viscous sweetener that begins to harden when it contacts ice. This means that it will not dissolve all the way when you shake it to prepare the cocktail,” says Murphy. He recommends adding half an ounce of water to each one ounce of hot honey and mixing it thoroughly before adding it to the cocktail. This ensures the sweetener is evenly distributed throughout the drink and not clumped up at the bottom of the shaker.

Even if you’re one to slather hot honey onto your favorite foods, Mennie warns against adding too much to your shaker — especially in drinks that call for fresh citrus. “Too much acid will inflame the hot honey and overpower the flavor,” he says.

Joey Smith, bar director at New York City-based Chez Zou, also notes that it can be tricky to find the right proportions and create balance in a hot honey beverage.

“If someone wants their cocktail super dry and super spicy, or more sweet and less spicy, it will be difficult to adjust since the hot honey is responsible for both those flavors,” he says. Knowing one’s audience is key, and creating a hot honey cocktail for a crowd may not be the way to go. “I wouldn’t use hot honey in the bar as I would prefer to use honey and a spice element separately in order to retain more control over the final balance of the cocktail,” says Smith.

A dollop of hot honey can take a regular slice of pizza over the top and boost the flavor of a mundane sandwich with just a dab. In the same vein, a cocktail made with hot honey is the perfect accompaniment to nearly any type of cuisine.

“Hot honey is at its best when it’s bringing the sweet and fiery component to the food,” says Murphy. He says sandwiches, fresh breads, cheese boards, pretzels, and savory baked goods would all benefit enormously from a spiced-up cocktail pairing. Connors, on the other hand, suggests drinking a hot honey cocktail with adobada tacos or shrimp off the flat top.

These chili-spiked beverages can certainly stand on their own, but, as Murphy says, “having hot honey work with food products as well is an added versatility bonus.”