It's quite possible, even probable, that your first encounter with spiced alcohol came in the form of an ill-advised shot someone handed you in college. Like leaving behind Solo cups and learning to wash your sheets once a year, it's time to graduate to something more sophisticated. Embrace autumn in all its spice-happy glory with one of these bottles that pack a punch.
Ancho Reyes Verde chile liqueur
$33, 750ml, 80 proof
Bartenders went gaga over the original Ancho Reyes, a raisin-y chipotle liqueur that debuted in 2013. The brand's second product, Verde, which launched in September, is made in Mexico with chile peppers harvested when they are still green, then fire-roasted. The result is clean and crisp, with just enough vegetal bite to remind you of chomping on a green jalapeño -- then smoothed with a hint of vanilla sweetness. It's great for adding herbaceous heat to light spirits like vodka, gin, or blanco tequila.
ESP smoked gin
$38, 750ml, 84 proof
Empire Spirits Project founder/master distiller Jake Sawabini -- a veteran of restaurants including Le Bernardin and WD~50 -- debuted a trio of "culinary-inspired" gins. New this fall, this gin incorporates applewood smoke, peppercorn, and caraway. To be honest, the black pepper is what dominates; there's almost no trace of smoke. But it's still enough to give a racy, zesty tingle to your next G&T, finishing with a gentle rosewater note.
Old New Orleans Cajun Spice rum
$37, 750ml, 80 proof
Made at a pioneering Louisiana distillery that was one of the first among modern American craft producers, this definitely puts the "spice" in the "spiced rum" category. The base is a three-year-old rum infused with cayenne pepper and cinnamon, though you may also detect hints of clove, ginger, and nutmeg. Sip or mix into rum-based cocktails like daiquiris or Mai Tais for gentle warmth.
Soltado spicy añejo tequila
$40, 750ml, 80 proof
This barrel-aged tequila from Soltado is infused with fiery serrano peppers and Mexican cinnamon. It yields a pepper fruitiness but also a walloping dose of heat that die-hard chili-heads will love. Mix a highball with ginger ale to tame the fire for those with more tender taste buds.
$49, 750ml, 80 proof
Think orange liqueur with a little (fine, a lot) of extra heat -- it's got a bite both in alcohol level and chili pepper sting. The New York-based startup, inspired by the Native American ancestry of one of its founders, says that it uses chili pepper juice to provide a natural punch. The slow-building burn is balanced out with juicy orange and vanilla bean sweetness -- just the ticket to build a spicy margarita without muddling or infusing chili peppers.
$37, 750ml, 44 proof
Chili peppers not your thing? This golden liqueur made by an indie Brooklyn (of course) distiller packs a big gingery punch -- each batch requires 30lbs of fresh ginger to steep in the cane spirit base for nearly a month. The spicy-sweet spirit will amp up Moscow mules, Dark 'n Stormys, and other ginger-centric cocktails.
Wild Turkey American Honey Sting
$23, 750ml, 71 proof
If nothing but whiskey will do, give this bourbon-based liqueur a try. Hailing from one of Kentucky’s legendary bourbon producers, Wild Turkey, this liqueur is made fierce with ghost peppers -- aka bhut jolokia, one of the hottest chili peppers in the world. The honey tempers the slow burn on this one: It starts out mild, with an apples-and-honey flavor, but the heat sneaks up on you, with black pepper and cayenne flavors.
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