A Guide to Drinking with Spicy Foods: Cocktails

A Guide to Drinking with Spicy Foods: Cocktails

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Laura Burgess
Aug 24, 2016
(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

Cocktails and summertime go together like spicy food and summertime — but cocktails and spicy food? That match-up is a bit trickier to navigate. Alcohol elevates the spicy sensation brought on by capsaicin so, if you're not careful, you'll end up feeling the burn — and just the burn. After all, when your mouth is on fire, it's difficult to taste anything else.

But don't despair! There's hope yet for this pairing, whether your tipple of choice is sweet and fruity, citrusy, or bone dry.

(Image credit: Aida Mollenkamp)

If You Like Sweet & Fruity

Sweet and fruity flavors are actually spicy food's ideal mates, as the sugar mutes the burn brought on by high-proof spirits and spicy food and adds refreshment to otherwise steamy meals. Our favorite pick? Tiki cocktails, especially with Asian and Caribbean cuisines, which often have fruity elements in their dishes.

(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

If You Like Citrus

Cocktails don't have to be syrupy-sweet to quench the fires of spicy food: Bright citrus flavors offer similar relief. Classics like gimlets, greyhounds, and even lemon drops offer relief, thanks to lively citrus that tames the flames and cuts through the greasiness of heavy burritos or oily lo-mein with ease.

But if you're going Mexican, you can't go wrong with a margarita. Lime and tequila — a spirit known for its vegetal flavors — highlight the one-two punch of jalapeños and cilantro present in much of Mexican cuisine.

(Image credit: Maureen Petrosky)

If You Like Dry

If you're not a fan of sweet cocktails, dry classics can work, but they're best with simple flavors and foods with one spicy high note, like a perfect smear of wasabi or ginger.

Herbal cocktails, like gin-based martinis or a Vesper, are ideal because they combine lively floral aromatics with a clean finish that preps palates for the next bite. Sake and wine-based cocktails create a similar effect, and their lower alcohol content doesn't highlight capsaicin's burn.

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