On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the continued rise in popularity of spicy drinks, including how the Spicy Margarita started the trend and how a broader cultural appreciation of and lust for spice has carried over into the drinks industry. Then, they try this summer’s viral hit, spicy rosé. Tune in to hear more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Friday Podcast. It’s all good. What’s going on, Joanna and Zach? How are you guys doing?
J: Back to the podcast.
Z: Good, yeah, my son is back at school after not being able to go to school yesterday because it was too smoky. Thanks, forest fires. Yeah, it was great.
Z: There’s a wildfire not that close to where we live, but unfortunately the wind was blowing all of that smoke directly to us, which not great for kids, but it wasn’t like it was better at home, but the school was like, “Yeah, your kids can’t come to school today.” So that was fun.
A: They don’t want the liability.
A: Well, I’m glad to hear that school’s back in session.
Z: I’m ready for Friday is really what that’s all about.
Z: Let’s get to this Friday.
A: Fridays are always a great day. Friday’s always a great day. So this Friday we’re talking about spice.
J: Be more specific.
A: So basically the ongoing domination of spice as a flavor modifier in drinks.
J: But like spicy.
A: Spicy. Not spice.
J: Not like warm spices, cinnamon.
A: Yeah, no. None of that. Nutmeg, saffron. No. We’re talking about spicy. And look, I mean, I think there’s been a trend of spicy drinks for a while now, but they just continue to seem to get more and more and more popular.
A: And I think, I feel like we found peak spicy this summer when people on TikTok started adding jalapeños to rosé.
J: Just straight up, right to the bottle.
A: Just straight to the bottle, like a jalapeño rosé. I am conflicted because I actually hate spicy cocktails. I hate spicy drinks. So for me, it’s very hard to understand the appeal, although I know some people that love it. For me, it’s just, it’s all spice, nothing else. But so many people love spicy cocktails. Why do you guys? And drinks in general, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and hot Doritos Locos Tacos, and anything spicy. Why do you both think that spicy, in drinks specifically, continues to just have such a mass appeal amongst consumers?
Z: Joanna? Are you a spice fan? I feel like you are.
J: No, actually I’m not. I like hot sauce and things like that, but I don’t like when spice blows out my palate. A long time ago I was working on a gift guide for a publication that I used to work for, and we called in these watermelon ghost pepper candies, because they’re just chili heads out there who are really into this idea of eating or drinking the spiciest thing they could possibly do.
J: And, oh gosh, they were awful. I tried one and it completely ruined my day.
A: Yeah. Ruined my day.
J: But yeah, I would rather enjoy something without extreme spiciness. So I find this very fascinating. The idea that you would just add a jalapeño to a bottle of wine to get that kick is really interesting to me. I’m curious to know what you think, Zach, because I feel like you have thoughts on why this is really proliferated.
Z: Yeah. Well I think there are two things. One is that there’s no doubt that there’s a segment of the population that, be it in food or be it in drink, just out-and-out likes spice. And they might love the adrenaline rush of a really spicy dish, or in the case of what we’re talking about a really spicy drink, or people’s palates are different and some people, when food that isn’t spicy it comes across to them as bland. And so perhaps drinks that aren’t spicy come across to them as bland. And so I think there’s a portion of the population where I’m like, “That’s cool.” As a bartender, you get the people who are like, “I want a really spicy Bloody Mary.” And you go, “Okay, great.” I will make my Bloody Mary or I’ll use the Bloody Mary mix we have, and then I’ll add some extra hot sauce and hopefully that makes it okay for you. And if it’s not, then we’ll bring it back and I’ll add more and we’ll keep adding more until you tell me it’s enough. That’s fine. That’s a great cocktail to add hot sauce to. Cool. I think the hard part for me is, one, are people using spice to cover up or heat to cover up poor-quality products? Look, maybe if you have a really inexpensive bottle of rosé adding some fresh jalapeño is going to maybe elevate the experience. I don’t know. We’ll find out as I think that’s what we’re tasting in a little bit. But at the same time, I also would say that there’s also a danger. The danger to this kind of thing, as I see it, is when you’re doing it at a larger scale, you’re making a spiced pepper vodka, say, or you’re adding heat in some fashion to a cocktail that you’re putting on your menu. You get into this very difficult space where people’s tolerance for spice, and even what they consider spicy, is so varied and it’s really hard to dial in on it. I mean, I don’t know if you see people in the bars that are making spicy cocktails doing the thing that you see at restaurants where they have spicy cuisine, where there’s different star ratings or different chili ratings. And you can be like, “I want that cocktail as a two-star spicy bar.” I think the problem for a lot of us is, I don’t mind a little bit of spice in certain drinks, like a Spicy Margarita, but it’s so variable depending on — to say nothing of the individual quality of the jalapeños that might be being used — but how aggressively is the bartender muddling it? Are they using the whole jalapeño, including seeds? What is everything that goes into it? How much sugar are they using? Are they balancing this spice with sweet? It’s so variable and cocktails in particular, they are a thing that require such precise balance in a lot of cases on a lot of other axes that adding spiciness to it, just to me, I think you do run the risk of the thing that you both described, which is getting something that just nukes your palate. It’s not pleasantly spicy or maybe even mildly challengingly spicy. It’s just so spicy that now for the next hour, all you taste is that capsicum burn, which is, maybe some people what they want, but a lot of us, that’s not where we want to be.
J: Yeah. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I feel like the people who enjoy Spicy Margaritas and are why it’s such a popular drink, aren’t really looking for that extreme heat. It’s more like the peek-and-see of it, right?
A: I think it’s something where you’re searching for a little bit of the thrill. It is amazing when we look at cocktails in our cocktail library, spicy cocktails and cocktail recipes always do incredibly well. I must say I was pretty not surprised at all at this trend of rosé. It was bound to happen. Rosé is this thing that we’ve basically messed with for so many years now. We’ve frozen it. It’s turned into slushies. We’ve added fruit to it, and made rosé sangria. Someone was going to put jalapeños in it. It almost is like it’s the one to do it with too, for whatever reason. And so you knew this was coming. It feels like, now, who’s going to bottle it, right?
A: Who’s going to actually make one? That also seems to be coming. So someone’s going to do it for sure, because it’s been in beer for so long.
A: There’s been all of these jalapeño beers, or these-spice pepper beers, IPAs with spice at the back end, stouts, a lot of Mexican chocolates.
J: Right, chili.
A: Chili stouts, things like that, that people have really gravitated towards. It’s just funny because I remember thinking about this and chatting about in our editorial meeting, where I was like, “No, I thought the spice trend was over. I thought we were onto something else.” And then Josh just pulls out the graph and it’s just a continued upward slope. It’s actually getting more popular, not less popular as people just continue to search for spice in as many places as possible. I think it’s also because spice is an exciting flavor that everyone can access, right? Well, it’s really easy to understand spice.
J: But I also think you made a really good point earlier because it’s now more mainstream, like spicy foods, and spicy snack foods, and junk food and stuff, are readily available to people across the world. So I feel like it’s less challenging to people’s palates at this point.
A: Well, I think it’s challenging for my tummy.
J: Right. We know that. Adam is not a spice person.
A: No, I’m not interested in it, man. I don’t even want to drink this wine. I don’t feel like getting sick tomorrow.
Z: But I think part of it is exactly what Joanna was getting at. The market for spicy things is no longer confined to a few specific cuisines that a lot of people might avoid. Instead, whether it’s through peppers, whether it’s through sauces, whether it’s through other kinds of means of getting oils, etc., or flakes, whatever, of getting spice into food, it’s so widespread. It’s so available in so many different cuisines and therefore is, again, a part of people’s food lexicon in a way that it wasn’t necessarily so much for us when we were growing up. I mean, I don’t know about the two of you, but for me I didn’t encounter a hot sauce that wasn’t Tabasco for a good chunk of my childhood. I mean, I didn’t like spicy things when I was a kid, which is pretty common for someone from my background. But now it’s kids growing up, people, young people who are earlier in their drinking experience, they may have had exposure to dozens of kinds of hot sauces, many different cuisines, which incorporate spice at a fundamental level and lots of different kinds of spice.
Z: And that, there’s that too. I mean, I think one thing I’d be curious to see is as this trend evolves, if you see people looking to incorporate lots of different ways of getting spicy into drinks, because the crude chop up a jalapeño and throw it in the thing you’re drinking is fine, but it’s one very specific kind of spice. And it’s one very specific kind of flavor that it lends to, because jalapeños have a very particular flavor that’s very green, and vegetal, and we all know it. And if you want to make a drink that’s spicy and you don’t want to use a vinegar-based hot sauce, which does its own things to drinks, or any kind of hot sauce whatsoever, because they affect the flavor or the texture of the drink or both. I think you’re starting to see people doing essentially Firewater Bitters, which are basically just capsicum oil or extract in a solution. There are lots of ways to get spicy without altering the flavor. But there’s also all these other kinds of spicy flavors whether it’s roasted chilies, or is, where you guys were talking about, the Mexican chocolate. That really almost warming, savory spice. There’s a lot there that I think people are continuing to play with, which to me does make it somewhat interesting, because I am with you, Adam, that in general the chop-up-a-jalapeño-and-throw-it-in-the-thing-you’re-drinking approach, doesn’t really do it for me that much.
A: Yeah. For me, also, I would say, I think if we were to look, I would say the most prevalent spice form, though, in drinks is jalapeño .
Z: For sure.
A: Just the easiest. It’s just chop it up, go for it. There’s lots of hacks on how to get it in faster, how to do infusions, non-infusions. We played around with it with the French presses and things like that, where people try to really squeeze out all that capsaicin. But I do agree that it does add that green vegetal flavor.
A: I mean I have a hot take here and I think that anything like this with the rosé, jalapeño, etc., is that everyone’s just chasing that very basic Spicy Margarita. It’s like that’s the flavor most people are looking for. A little bit of acid, a little bit of something, what would you say? Citrus, maybe, in rosé. So we’re going to say strawberry, red fruit, etc., and capsaicin.
A: That, with the green vegetable behind it, I think that is, for most people, what they like. And I think that the Spicy Margarita was most people’s gateway drug into spicy drinks and that’s still the most popular. For me, for hot sauce, though, I think you’re right. I had Tabasco and then I remember the hot sauce packets from Taco Bell.
A: Those are good. But that was about it. There wasn’t this crazy Cholula, and all the other brands on the market, and basically all the amazing Mexican hot sauces that we’re now getting imported, and things like that. I will say though, another gripe I have is, I really don’t love going to restaurants where the cuisine’s not traditionally spicy, and they are like, “But guess what? This is our crazy chili oil fettuccine.” And I’m like, “Dude, in Calabria, they don’t even use this much spice. What are we doing? Can we please not do this? My tummy does not like it.”
J: But I also think that there are people who like spicy things for the challenge of it as well.
A: 100 percent. Hot chip challenge.
J: Hot, what?
A: The hot chip challenge.
J: The hot chip challenge.
A: There’s one chip that’s supposed to be the spiciest chip known to man. And you eat it and see. You haven’t seen it? Oh, there’s an amazing video of Shaq trying to do it.
A: And he’s like, “I won’t even blink. I won’t even blink. I won’t even blink” And he eats it and just starts crying. And I mean, people love that stuff though.
J: “The Hot Ones,” right?
A: Yeah, “Hot Ones.” The just never-ending appeal of that show. It’s a challenge.
Z: But see, I wonder, do people want to consume that themselves, or do they want to watch someone else suffer while consuming it? That’s a whole other thing.
A: Both. I think both. I think it’s an endorphin rush, right? I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there’s two different kinds of people. I only want to watch it. I don’t want to partake, but I also don’t want to ever bungee jump in my life. So you know what I’m saying? But I’ll watch some videos of other idiots doing it. I’m just not doing it myself.
Z: Speaking of idiots, we should try this wine.
J: We should.
A: Okay, so what did we do here, Joanna?
J: I seeded and chopped up a whole jalapeño and I put it into a bottle of rosé.
A: And it sat for how long now?
J: Oh, I don’t know, 15 minutes.
A: What about you Zach? Is that what you did?
Z: I didn’t. I have a glass here of rosé with two sizable jalapeño rings floating in it. Actually looks cool, but I did take the seeds out because like you, Adam, I’m not trying to regret my life too much tomorrow.
A: Let’s see what this is about.
Z: It smells so jalapeño -y. It’s amazing.
A: All I smell is jalapeño. I actually smell some rosé, but I smell jalapeño .
A: We’re going to make Keith taste it too.
Z: All right. I’m going in.
A: I really don’t want to, guys. I really don’t want to.
Z: I also poured myself a control glass of just the rosé because I need to see what the rosé tastes like without the jalapeño, just in case, I want to see how much I’m missing.
J: I feel like I’m only getting the vegetal parts of the pepper. No kick. Maybe it needs to, Keith agrees, maybe it needs to steep a little longer.
Z: I have a little kick here.
A: I get a little kick in the back. Just at the back, though.
Z: Mine’s been in my glass for about half an hour. A little over half an hour, yeah.
A: I don’t get it, though.
J: Okay. So say you add some, whatever, ice and a few strawberries to this.
A: Oh, I think this was very popular. I think this, I mean that’s what some people were doing.
J: Well, then it’s like a Spicy Sangria, right?
A: I mean, right now, what we have is a poor man’s Spicy Sangria. Then if we up it a little bit more, we get sangria like spicy rosé Sangria.
J: This is like you’re so desperate for a Spicy Margarita.
Z: Well, I also think this is like you have a bottle of rosé that’s been open for two days in your fridge, or it’s a $6 bottle of rosé and you just want to do something else to it. I don’t really think about the control version I have, which I think is a fine rosé, I’m not going to say what it is, but it’s nothing fancy.
A: Sorry, it’s still there. I just can’t handle this. I’m not into it at all.
Z: All right. Well this is…
A: The burning in my throat still I don’t like. I don’t like it. Sorry, Zach, I know I just cut you off, but I just need everyone to know this is horrible.
Z: We all needed to hear that. It’s true.
A: Does anyone have any water? I think there’s water bottles outside of the studio.
Z: Yeah. I would love to know, though, for those of you out there listening who do love spicy drinks, whether it’s spicy rosé, Spicy Margs, whatever. Let us know why, firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us your favorite recipe.
Z: Make a spicy Sidecar for the Rémy Martin Cocktail Competition. Don’t expect Adam to give you good scores.
A: You make it spicy. No, I will grade it fairly.
A: I’ll grade it fairly.
A: Not into this.
J: We need to end this episode right now.
A: I’m done, you guys. I hope I make it to the weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.
J: Have a great weekend.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.