Hot peppers and alcohol go together in ways that are both wonderful and terrifying. Wonderful in that the two were pretty much meant for each other (more on that later) and terrifying because their unholy union can have some pretty amazing, uh, “effects”. Then again, one person’s amazing is another’s “what in the hell did I just do to myself?!??!”
So back to that whole “alcohol and hot peppers go together like peas and carrots” thing. What makes hot peppers, well, “hot” is a chemical called capsaicin – this stuff tricks your poor nerves into thinking they’re on fire, you even get an endorphin rush… what’s cool (puns) is that capsaicin is highly soluble in alcohol but it’s virtually insoluble in water. What this means, in a nutshell, is that if you want to make spicy-as-all-hell vodka, you really shouldn’t be starting with vodka at all. However, if you want your spirits to taste like anything other than just spicy, you’re going to need some water to extract all of the sweet, flavorful, pepper flavor. So how do you do that?
In this little tutorial we’re going to show you how to make not only the spiciest vodka you’ve ever had, but make it taste amazing too (if you dare take the plunge). We’re going to start with a Technical Reserve extraction and then extract a second time with plain old (filtered) water to make the ultimate in spicy sweetness.
For this recipe you’re going to need:
- 5 fresh or dried Trinidad Scorpion Maruga peppers. Because Technical Reserve is so high proof, you can use fresh peppers but if you’re not using Technical Reserve, we recommend dried peppers for the best result.
- a bottle of Technical Reserve (we’ll be using about 160ml)
- a small jar with a lid (about 250 ml) for macerating and steeping the peppers (Teflon lid always preferred!)
- a second small jar (no lid needed) for collecting liquid
- a 375 ml bottle for your finished spirit
- a funnel that fits in your final bottle
- a small strainer
- coffee filters or laboratory filter paper (preferred for the best filtration)
- GLOVES (not a joke, you’re going to want these)
- knife and cutting board
- 100ml or 250ml graduated cylinder (toss out that measuring cup!)
- Here we go… gas mask not required!
- Gloves on!
- Remove the stems from your peppers.
- Cut your Scorpions into segments. If you’re using dried peppers, coarsely chop them up.
- Get ready for your first extraction.
- Measure out 130ml of Technical Reserve using your graduated cylinder (*hint* if you don’t have a graduated cylinder you can use a scale!).
- Cap it!
- Shake it up and then leave it be (or come back and shake when you feel like it).
IMPORTANT! BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR GLOVES AS YOU TAKE THEM OFF. Remember, they are covered in peppery pain…
- After 8-24 hours…
- Decant your deadly-spicy extract.
Measure out another 30ml of Technical Reserve and pour that into the steeping jar. Shake for a minute or two and pour this through the strainer into the jar (again, keep the peppers in the steeping jar). This “washes” any residual alcohol-soluble material off the peppers and jar.
- If you just wanted to make a concentrated peppery death liquid, congratulations, you’re good to go (or you can filter it, see below). This extract is great for cooking – a couple of drops is all you need to flavor anything that might need that perfect searing heat. Just be careful with it, this stuff is nasty…
- Filtering: while this stage is optional, filtering with coffee filters (lab filters are always preferred ) gives you the clearest, dare we say prettiest extract. If you don’t want to filter, just pour the extract into your final bottle. If you want to filter, you can filter right into the bottle like we’re doing here.
- The next part is what makes this recipe unique. After we stripped away all of the alcohol-soluble capsaicin and other veggie oils, what we have left are sugars and water soluble plant flavors. Since we want to make a hot AND flavorful vodka, we’re going to extract all of that goodness and mix it with our Technical Reserve extract (reducing the overall proof to vodka-strength in the process). Measure out 150ml of water and pour it into the steeping jar.
- Shake it up and let it sit.
- Decant your steeping jar into your extra little jar with the funnel and strainer. Measure out 90 ml of water and use this to refill your steeping jar. If you used dried scorpion peppers you’re probably going to want to add a bit more water to make up for anything that got absorbed by the dried peppers – figure another 10-20ml.
Shake a few times and then dump the entire contents of your jar into the strainer. If it doesn’t fit, just use the strainer to hold back the peppers in the steeping jar until all of the water is drained. Discard or eat* the remaining peppers.
- Filter (or don’t if you don’t want to filter your vodka) the peppery water using your funnel and a fresh piece of filter paper, right into the final bottle.
- Cap it up and shake it up
- At this point, you should clean up your tools, throw away anything that might have gotten spicy-d on, and wash your bottle. When you’re good to go, take off your gloves and get ready for the most important part – the label!
- And there you have it, 80 proof (ish) Scorpion Juice Vodka.
So how hot is it? Well, without sending this off to a lab to have an actual scovilles assay done, we’re going to take a wild guess. If you consider that each Trinidad Scorpion Moruga pepper clocks in at around 1,200,000 scovilles (yep, that wasn’t a typo) there is a quite a lot of fiery in this bottle. If we were to assume 100% extraction (which we didn’t get but it makes the math a bit simpler) and that we used 5 scorpions for this recipe, then if you drank the entire bottle you would have consumed something like 6 million scoville units of pain (PS, don’t do that. Seriously. No really, extra seriously, we don’t condone that in any way shape or form).
That said, if you were to consider that a normal shot is about 30 ml of liquid and our bottle is 375± ml in total volume, then we’re “only” looking at around 480,000 scoville units per shot. Even if we called it 50% extraction (which we most definitely exceeded), you’re still looking at 240,000 scoville units. Yeah, we’ll just leave that right there.
I love this stuff. I use it for extra spice in a bloody mary, a kick (in the face) in 4 bean chili, and of course celebratory toasting. Yes, we have consumed “The Scorpion” and have record of more than a few brave folks stepping up to take a dram. The sensation is overwhelming at first, with an ever-building heat that plateaus and sustains for a silly long time. Eventually (much later…) this subsides and you’re hit with a fantastic sweet and vegetal flavor almost like a perfectly ripe red bell pepper with more of a citrusy bite. If you’re a pepper-head, this is going to be a treat – for everyone else, proceed with caution.
PS, “scovilles” auto-corrects to “evillest”. Not too far off, eh?