No Chaser: These Mixologists Pick a Pepper

Some like it spicy. More people like alcohol. Somewhere in between is what we are about to tell you about.


he 7th Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo takes place April 13–14 at the Brooklyn Expo Center. Over the course of those two days, burns-so-good sayers will get to experience things with such names as “Stage of Doom” and “Screaming Mi Mi Awards.”

But we know where we belong—that’s why we took a moment and glass of milk to chat with some of the past finalists, from their respective cities, about their creations for the Booze & Infuse competition. And finding the right combination of spicy and delicious is no easy feat, these ain’t your average spicy margaritas. Sip slowly.

It Gets Heated

Let’s start out easy, You’ve eaten a pepper that is over 800,000 on the Scoville Scale. What can counteract the heat?

Pablo González: (Portland FinalistI’m a bad Mexican and don’t really like things that are too spicy—please don’t tell my dad—but I would absolutely have a lightly thawed pint of vanilla ice cream on hand. It being thawed out is absolutely crucial.

Aaron Pollack: (Chicago Finalist) Besides cursing and crying? I’ve always been a fan of the fairy route, so give me a tub of cottage cheese and a corner to hide in.

Carlos Ruiz: (New Jersey FinalistMilk, yogurt or sour cream!

Melina Meza: (California FinalistJust put me in a bathtub of milk to drink and lay in and cry.

Melina Meza – California Finalist

Just put me in a bathtub of milk to drink and lay in and cry.

What did you learn about balance in crafting this cocktail?

PG: During the preliminaries in Portland, I ripped my shirt off on stage. I learned balance is important—but having fun can be just as important. So much of our personalities shine through our cocktails and at a Hot Sauce Expo—well, would you rather have a cocktail with a librarian or with a stripper?

AP: I’ve always taken a culinary approach to cocktails to achieve a layered balance to build a cocktail, similar to a chef crafting a dish. Each ingredient should have a purpose and reach the desired effect on the palate or senses.

CR: I wanted to create a cocktail that transported you to a tropical paradise. A perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and body.

MM: Lilikoi, which has a unique flavor that is both sweet and tart, was a component to my cocktail. I learned it was best to keep equal parts citrus to cordial and it worked perfectly.

I wanted to create a cocktail that transported you to a tropical paradise.

Carlos Ruiz – New Jersey Finalist

Your cocktail has attitude. If it were a musician who would it be and what venue are playing?

PG: My cocktail would absolutely be Lana Del Rey. At first, it seems like a classic, it might even pretend to be more Latin than it actually is from time to time. But it’s ultimately just a drag queen performing at all the gay clubs, ya know? Enjoyed mostly by the gays, then by the ladies and is secretly every straight-boy’s new favorite cocktail—if they’re okay drinking out of a coupe, that is.

AP: This cocktail reminds me of one of my favorite bluegrass musicians, Cory Branan. Twangy, and with a devilish smile. Like his songwriting, simple on the surface, but once you really examine the lyrics, there’s incredible depth. He’ll charm the pants right off of you, and before you know it your dancing around Schubas Tavern back home in Chicago!

CR: Jennifer Lopez performing at any outside venue in the world.

MM: My cocktail would be Ziggy Marley performing on the beaches of Jamaica with a sexy mellow island vibe.

Twangy, and with a devilish smile.

Aaron Pollack – Chicago Finalist

Some cocktails that didn’t work out in the creating process?  Why didn’t it work? What did it taste like?

PG: I ran out of one of my original ingredients before my competition. I had to substitute Pineapple Gomme for Fig Syrup. I ended up creating a completely new cocktail on stage. It ended up tasting like chili-pineapple Mexican candy. The judges loved it.

AP: The cocktail actually started out very simple at first. I tend to start with a general concept, flavor profile, and simple ‘classic’ build, and expand from there. Over-complication leads to confusion on the palate. I like the Mies van der Rohe approach: sometimes less is more.

CR: My idea from the get-go was that I wanted to make a refreshing cocktail utilizing guava, coconut and vanilla. This might sound easy but the hardest part of my cocktail was that the flavors are so delicate that if you add too much of one thing they will overpower each other. Finding the perfect balance was the hardest.

MM: That wasn’t the case for my cocktail. I knew the exact flavor profile I wanted to use and it all came together just as I had imagined.

I like the Mies van der Rohe approach: sometimes less is more.

Presentation is everything. How did your final presentation best accentuate the flavors and personality of your cocktail?

PG: They say we taste with our eyes and I for sure judge ALL books by their covers. I created an altar because it was an easy way to show culture, color and manifest my own destiny. My cocktail tastes undeniably Mexican. Admiring my altar while sipping on my cocktail is meant to transport you to Tonalá, Mexico. 

AP: I come from a bit of architectural background, and I had a professor stress the importance of perception and thinking about how a building looks from perspectives other than the human eye; what does the building look like to a plane flying overhead, etc? I take that approach to cocktail competitions and presentations. There are so many talented bartenders around competing, and you need to think about what sets your drink apart from the rest of the pack. Before a judge even tastes what’s in the glass, they’ll experience the sight and aromas, or even the feel of the material. It’s about creating a full sensory experience.

CR: I wanted my cocktail to really shine just by looking at it. From the temperature of the glass, ice and garnish it needed to stand out from everyone one else.

MM: Aromatics is always a factor I keep in mind with garnish presentation. The fresh mint plouche brings a refreshing herbal note that pairs wonderfully with it. It’s also garnished with a dehydrated lime because it’s more visually appealing than a fresh lime wheel and also a colorful marigold to represent the Hawaiian T-shirts it’s famous for. 

Pablo González – Portland Finalist


They say we taste with our eyes and I for sure judge ALL books by their covers.

Perfect time and place to drink your cocktail?

PG: 7:00 p.m. in The San Fernando Valley while sitting in a cold bathtub during the peak of summer, surrounded by about a dozen prayer candles that flicker as the sounds of Latin music flow in with the hot air off of Van Nuys Blvd.

AP: The gin botanicals scream for spring when mixed with the notes of cinnamon and cayenne, with enough bitterness from some fresh-pressed celery juice. I’d like to sip this drink at sunset on the first warm day of spring!

CR: During the summer next to a body of water.

A new hottest pepper in the world has just been discovered, you’re in charge of naming it. Go.

PG: Every now and then I feel like the hottest little pepper in the world. “Pablo Pepper” sounds cute… No! Wait! I want to name it The Paris Hilton because people will inevitably say “That’s hot” after taking a bite. Cute! …Did I mention I’m gay? Also, don’t tell my dad.

AP: Naming things—whether it’s cocktails, pop-punk songs, or peppers—is somewhat of a passion, I love dad jokes and puns. So let’s go with my favorite Red Hot Chili Pepper movie cameo in Point Break, and name it after Anthony Kiedis’ character ‘Tone’ …so we’ll call it the Atonement Pepper. Kind of sounds like a metal band, too.


MM: REINA DE FUEGO!! Which translates to ‘fire queen’ in Spanish!!