The roof, the roof, the roof (of your mouth) is on fire. You don’t need no water—you need a refreshing Milk Punch. Cocktail lovers often face a conundrum when choosing a drink to accompany fiery fare, whether it’s Nashville hot chicken, mapo tofu or lamb vindaloo. High-ABV sips will exacerbate scorched taste buds, but some cocktails can actually help assuage spice and provide much needed refreshment between bites. To keep the burn at bay, here are the nine best cocktails to pair with your favorite spicy bites.
The 9 Best Cocktails to Pair With Spicy Food
Spice aficionados know that milk trounces water when it comes to healing a singed mouth. The fat in dairy helps neutralize spiciness, whereas water will just spread the spice down your throat like a fiery tidal wave. A classic New Orleans Milk Punch served with brunch can revive even the most ragged Mardi Gras reveler, and the light flavor of baking spice from nutmeg and bourbon keep the milky cocktail from being as boring as, well, milk. Cajun spice won’t stand a chance.
Take the dairy curative to the next level by choosing a cocktail with whole cream in it. Named for the infamous prescription drug (though spelled improperly), the drink combines cream and Irish cream for a double dose of dairy treatment. Vodka, coffee liqueur and hazelnut liqueur also help to offset the drink’s creamy mouthfeel with deeper, nutty tastes, making it the ideal counterpart to a plate of peppery Thai fare.
Beer may not subdue spice as well as dairy, but brewskis remain eternally popular pairings for spicy food. Chalk it up to limited beverage options at divey slingers of spice, but connoisseurs of budget Szechuan and Indian eateries swear by a beer with their spicy grub. For a greater cooling effect with that same sudsy taste, try a Mexican Bulldog, which combines the soothing flavors of Mexican lager with a slushy Margarita in a single glass. Pair it with particularly picante chiles rellenos.
To calculate Scoville units—the scale by which the spiciest peppers in the world are judged—researchers usually dilute spicy chemical extractions using sugar-water, making sugar the scientific antidote of choice for crazy hot foods like Carolina Reapers and Ghost Peppers. The raw sugar muddled at the bottom of a Caipirinha infuses the entire drink with raw sweetness that’s ready to pounce on any fiery compounds lurking on your taste buds, while the acid from the lime juice helps neutralize the incendiary chemicals. Plus, you can add muddled fruit to the recipe to include flavors that will play nicely with your main course, like pineapple, strawberry or mango.
Like sugar, salt also effectively absorbs the burn of spicy foods. Try looking for a cocktail that employs an especially salty ingredient—like this Shandy made with salted guava syrup. The salty-sweet combination joins forces with bittersweet Campari and the mildly botanical aperitif Cocchi Americano Rosa to reawaken even the most spice-numbed palate.
Even if you recognize the benefits of milk when it comes to soothing your burning mouth, you may not want a heavy, creamy concoction. Chocolate packs enough fat to deliver the same effects in a lighter package. The Supercall signature Chocolate Martini renounces the standard saccharine version of the drink for a more nuanced and complex recipe spiked with amaro. Mole bitters are also used to add brightness to the cocktail and would serve as a particularly nice counterpart to Mexican fare.
If you prefer your sushi with a healthy dose of wasabi, we recommend alternating bites of spicy fish with sips of a dry, delicate refresher, like this sake-spiked spin on a Martini. The garnish of umeboshi (or pickled plums) is consumed in Japan as a hangover cure, but it may work to heal taste buds ravaged by spice as well.
It’s a scientific fact that you can’t feel spice when you pack your mouth with chubby bunny-worthy amounts of ice cream—but this boozy milkshake, laced with vodka and plenty of cooling mint, delivers the same relief even more rapidly via straw. Not only does the Thin Mint Milkshake cover all the spice-quelling bases, but it will also whisk you away from the burning sensation to memories of childhood cookie bliss.
vanilla ice cream
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. When your mouth is already feeling the burn and there’s no hope of relief, you may as well whip up a cocktail with equal fire power. This especially hot take on the Bloody Mary includes both Frank’s Red Hot and Tabasco, along with a decent helping of horseradish. Spice masochists take note—this is the drink for you.
Frank’s Red Hot