How to Spice Up Your Margaritas - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

How to Spice Up Your Margaritas

The Margarita is already a perfect cocktail, but adding a little heat to the equation takes its flavor in a new direction. In our July/August 2023 issue, we share three creative ways bartenders are spicing up their Margaritas, and if you’re looking for even more options, here are some other ways to turn up the heat.

Chili Paste

Adding hot sauce to the shaker is one of the easiest way to spice up a marg, but for a more concentrated heat, bartenders sometimes use chili paste. Unlike hot sauce, the paste is not diluted by vinegar or water, making it spicier and more pepper-forward. Toby Maloney of Chicago’s The Violet Hour and James Beard award-winning book The Bartender’s Manifesto favors Huy Fong sambal oelek chili paste. He says a teaspoon in the shaker gives his Margarita, Mango Margarita, and Paloma just the right amount of fire. “Sambal Oelek is great for adding spice to cocktails, because unlike Sriracha it’s just straight chilis — no garlic, no sugar. It has all the punchy chili flavor you want, without any competing noise,” he explains.


While infusing spirits is often the best way to incorporate a new layer of flavor, it doesn’t work as well when dealing with spice. Instead, some bartenders infuse juices or create pepper-infused simple syrup. Not only is it more economical, but it’s easier to control, keeping the amount of heat and spirit added to the drink mutually exclusive. Adam Fournier, bar director of Spago Beverly Hills and Imbibe 75er, prefers creating a spicy agave syrup “to give the balance of heat a richness,” he says. “Too often a spicy drink becomes just heat, but if you think of it like a hot wing, you need a good, rich balance to really carry it.”


Creating a spicy tincture by steeping chilis in a high-proof spirit, such as everclear, will bring lots of heat with just a couple of drops. But for those who aren’t DIYers, there are plenty of spicy tinctures available to purchase. Laurent Lebec of Chicago’s Big Star Mexican restaurant favors Scrappy’s Firewater Habanero Tincture. “We’ve tried them all, and these are the best: spicy, complex, consistent and easy to control,” he says.


Ancho Reyes has been the go-to chile liqueur for spicy Margaritas, replacing orange liqueur in the standard Margarita recipe. The Mexican-made liqueur comes in two flavors: Ancho Reyes Original, which is sweet and smoky and better matched with brown spirits, and Ancho Reyes Verde, its herbaceous sister that works well with tequila, gin, and vodka. But Maxwell Reis, beverage director of Mirate in Los Angeles, has another option. “If I want a softer dry heat, I’ll use chile liqueurs such as Alma Tepec,” he says. Handcrafted using smoke-dried pasilla mix chiles from Oaxaca, the Mexican ancestral chile liqueur lends a smoky and deep, lingering heat. Add just half an ounce to a Margarita before shaking it. “It’s great in a stirred cocktail, shaken into a citrus cocktail, or anywhere you want spice that doesn’t flatten a cocktail,” Reis says.


Although Reis has a variety of ways to spice things up at Mirate, his favorite method is to dip a cocktail glass rim in chile salt. “I find spicy cocktails can be a little boring as a creator because they can become mono-tonal,” he says. “So a blend of chiles, salt, acid (dehydrated citrus or citric/malic), and sometimes sugar gives me the option to create an interesting base with the option of added heat.” Lebec prefers using tajin. “For us, spice is about more than just heat,” he explains. “This functional and easy-to-find blend of spices adds a floral, smoky element.”

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