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Photo by Chris Casella
Photo by Chris Casella

Bar Bet: Ghost Pepper

Bartenders, while a friendly bunch, can sometimes be a bit competitive. Each season, as new menus roll out across town, there is a bit of cocktail envy that inevitably takes place. With a seemingly endless pool of ingredients to choose from when formulating a new drink—and a similarly endless list of failed attempts to use them—(614) presents Bar Bet, a special cocktail challenge for bartenders to come up with a cocktail using a weird ingredient of their challenger’s choice.

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When does a cocktail cease to exist in the realm of the cocktail and move into another category entirely? At Pearl & Ash in NYC, I was served a Fernet Branca ice cream sandwich at the end of my meal. Was it delicious? Yes. Boozy? Yes. A cocktail…no. Using the original definition of a cocktail—a mixture of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters—the focus narrows considerably, and rules out a majority of what we order at the bar these days. The definition continues to swell beyond its original form in the world of spiritous beverages and well beyond its even more historical origin—when it referred to a creature with a tail like that of a cock, specifically a horse with a docked tail. Happily contributing to that ever-expanding definition —Logan Demmy.

Logan was challenged by David Veitch of Kraft House No. 5 to use the impossibly hot ghost pepper which clocks in at 1 million Scoville units (for reference, a jalapeño is usually between 2,500-8,000). A dick move if I’ve ever heard of one, David, but just the kind of dick move we’re fans of here at (614) Bar Bet. Even while wondering aloud on the phone where he would even obtain the peppers, Logan accepted the challenge and got right to work, texting me less than a week later to let me know he was ready when we were. I honestly thought we were ready too, but when photographer Chris Casella and I arrived at Mouton to check out the result, I don’t think either of us were prepared for what we saw.

I’ve had plenty of Jello shots in my day, but none of them were served in a hollowed out orange peel, and they definitely didn’t come with a side of ghost foam.

Logan began by explaining his process, which was rather involved: first, he steeped a single dried ghost pepper in rum to create a concentrated tincture capturing the pepper’s heat in a more manageable liquid form (a taste of this liquid was offered, and politely declined). Then, he added four ounces of Skinos (a Greek liqueur made with resin from the Mastiha tree), five ounces of egg whites, and just half a teaspoon of the ghost tincture to an ISI whip canister, which he then sealed and charged with nitrous oxide. Like we said, involved. If this all sounds foreign to you, the quick version is that he used the power of compressed nitrous oxide and the proteins found in egg whites to turn the mixture into a light and airy foam. Luckily, Casella’s well-documented aversion to egg whites in his drink seemed to be tempered by his fascination with what was happening in front of him, and he didn’t bat an eye. But then things got weirder.

Logan set a plate down on the table and walked to the fridge where he produced what looked like half

Photo by Chris Casella

Photo by Chris Casella

of an ordinary orange and set it on a cutting board. It turns out, it was just the hollowed rind of an orange that Logan had filled with Jello—but not just any Jello: he began cutting the “orange” into slices while revealing the contents of the mystery gelatin inside. This Jello contained Appleton rum, Aperol, and orange zest, as well as the requisite sugar, water, and of course, Jello mix. The “orange slices” were then neatly arranged on the plate surrounding a small dish, which he filled with ghost pepper foam. After photographing the flawless presentation, Casella and I were tasked with just how to approach this unique cocktail. I’ve had plenty of Jello shots in my day, but none of them were served in a hollowed out orange peel, and they definitely didn’t come with a side of ghost foam. Logan instructed us to dip the slices into the foam and suck the contents from the peel, which sounded messy, but proved to be relatively neat.

“The foam aromatizes [the heat and flavor from the ghost pepper] and spreads it out, which makes the flavor more manageable,” he said. He was right. Just smelling the ghost pepper tincture, it was obvious that it necessitated several steps to make it anywhere near palatable. The foam provided a rather pleasant heat to counter the sweet and tart flavors in the Jello, and lingered for a bit on the tongue, without overpowering anyone’s tastebuds, which is easy to do when you’re dealing with 1 million Scoville units. Turns out that this drink…err…thing had a lot more going for it than impressive presentation. Logan managed to tame the ghost, while creating a fun and interesting flavor that kept me coming back for more (unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, there were only four slices served and Casella and I split them).

In the end, I can’t say that Logan really served us a cocktail that day. He definitely served us something with spirits (ghost spirits?), sugar, water, and….jello in place of the bitters. (Or maybe the heat replaced the bitters? ) It was definitely unique, it was definitely interesting, and it was definitely delicious, but I definitely can’t say I had a cocktail, even under today’s loose definition. Most importantly though, I definitely don’t care—I’d have it again any day. Logan wins for creative presentation, at least until someone presents their drink on a cock-tailed horse.

Up next, he challenged Andrea Hoover, beverage operations manager at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, to try her hand at mixing up a drink with Crème Fraîche in the recipe. Andrea, I expect it will be served upon a horse. 

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