IT TOOK A lot of sweat and tears to perfect the Ghost Pepper Sour. During Melbourne’s first lockdown, Juliet beverage manager Tim Salchow started growing chocolate ghost peppers. His harvests grew spicier and spicier, but even the mildest peppers can be 200 times hotter than a jalapeño. “When I first harvested it and had a little slice of that chili, it was mental,” Salchow says. “I really was sweating, crying, and I couldn’t really think for the rest of the day.”
It gives you this nice spicy tingle on the lips.
Though the chocolate ghost pepper was mind-numbingly hot, he was determined to use it as a food or cocktail flavor. The chili’s slightly sweet, smoky flavor was worth it. Salchow, who studied mechatronics engineering in Germany, came up with a methodical solution to this problem by simmering different ratios of coconut oil and grapeseed oil with the ghost peppers. Eventually, with a combination of cooking techniques, he arrived at the Ghost Pepper Sour. “It gives you this nice spicy tingle on the lips,” he says. “It’s not lasting in your mouth for an hour or two. It’s really a 5–10 minute spice, so it’s way more approachable for customers.”
Salchow is also enthusiastic about an Australian beverage company named Wonderfoam. He adds a few drops of Wonderfoam to the Ghost Pepper Sour to create the rich flavor and creamy texture that define a classic sour. Since Wonderfoam is made from the bark of the Quillaja saponaria tree, it is vegan, and a tiny bottle lasts for nearly 400 cocktails.
The gin in this cocktail, which Salchow enhances with St-Germain, ties into Juliet’s goal of celebrating female distillers and winemakers, as well as using sustainable, local ingredients. Island Gin founder and head distiller Andi Ross foraged for ingredients near her home on Great Barrier Island to create her spirit, and also uses Great Barrier manuka honey and bush island honey. “It’s an incredible spirit to work with. It’s fully sustainable as well,” Salchow says. Island Gin’s bottles are thoughtfully designed in the local community. Ross uses a local bottler who works with recycled glass, and then collaborates with a local glass artist to reshape customers’ empty bottles into vases and carafes.
Juliet hosts speaking and networking events for local beer, wine, and distillery producers, and Salchow is looking forward to the return of these events and to welcoming back Juliet’s regulars. The Ghost Pepper Sour is still on the menu, waiting for them. “It’s a customer favorite. So we’re going to keep it on the menu just to make sure when regulars come in, they have their favorite drink in their hand.”
Ghost Pepper Sour
- 1 ½ oz Island Gin
- ½ oz St-Germain
- ⅓ oz agave syrup
- 1 oz fresh lemon juice
- 45 drops Wonderfoam
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- 250 ml liquid coconut oil
- 3–4 ghost peppers
- Blend the ghost chilis with coconut oil.
- Simmer the blended ghost chili oil on very low heat for 20 minutes. Allow it to cool at room temperature.
- Strain the oil into a squeeze bottle.
- Rinse the inside of a coupette glass with the chili oil so that it lightly coats the glass.
- Dry shake the remaining ingredients, then wet shake to create creamy froth.
- Pour the mix into the prepared coupette. Pouring slowly helps to keep the ghost chili oil on top of the froth and creates a nice garnish.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in Upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.