One of Hope & Sesame signature cocktail, featured on DRiNK Magazine at this link as well as

Texts by Elysia Bagley, DRiNK Magazine

Bastien Ciocca and Andrew Ho of Guangzhou’s Hope & Sesame shares the story of how distilling local Hainan peppers led to a surprising rum sour-style cocktail.

We were on a trip to Hainan and the chef from the Ritz-Carlton took us to visit some farms, one of which grows yellow chillies; known as the yellow lantern or yellow emperor chilli. You can only find it in Hainan – it looks like a little pumpkin – bright yellow-orange, it’s very tasty with a passionfruit-like flavour. It actually used to be considered one of the hottest chillies in the world, second only to habanero, before the days of ghost peppers and all these new engineered hybrid chillies.

We decided to distil the chillies and found out that they weren’t spicy once distilled – spicy not spicy – and this became the cocktail name. When you distil any pepper, the spiciness doesn’t carry over. Basically, capsaicin molecules – what makes a chilli spicy – are too heavy, so they don’t evaporate when you distil the chillies. The spicy molecules remain in the first flask, and don’t carry over to the second where the other flavours go. But, as we’ve learned, it’s not the same rule for wasabi! Those molecules are much more volatile, and so some stay in the first flask, and some go to the second, meaning you cannot separate the kick from the flavour – but you can with the chilli. So far, this rule stands for every chili we’ve tried.

Spicy Not Spicy is a very fun drink; fresh, herbal and a little floral. We work directly with the farm in Hainan to have the chillies sent to us fresh, which offers the best flavour when redistilled. The peppers can be distilled with the rum in a rotovap, or using a small water distiller. In Hainan, they also have a chilli sauce made with the yellow peppers and vinegar – we also tried distilling with this, but the flavour didn’t have as much of a punch.

The drink is truly a rum sour at the base. The rum blend is distilled with the chillies, and from there it is quite simple: yellow Chartreuse, a little chamomile liqueur, a bit of passionfruit, some lime juice, and then aquafaba or egg white – we are using aquafaba more and more these days instead of egg white in our drinks. Then it’s all shaken, and we serve it with a small passionfruit pudding, so you have a bite of these nice and citrusy passionfruit flavours chased by the chilli of the drink.

For those who don’t have a rotovap, the water distiller is so convenient, and quite affordable for anyone – you can buy a HOOLOO brand one on Taobao for about ¥400. When we were traveling around Europe doing guest shifts, we carried it with us, and in each city made a different version of Spicy Not Spicy using a local pepper. It made the drink quite unique and personal to each place, with new flavours each time.

40ml Hainan yellow chilli rum*
30g Passionfruit puree
15ml Massenez crème de chamomile
20ml Yellow Chartreuse
20ml Lime juice
15ml Aquafaba
Passionfruit mango chilli pudding**

Shake all ingredients with ice, then remove ice and dry shake. Pour into rocks glass with ice and serve with passionfruit mango chilli pudding.

*Hainan yellow chilli rum: 600ml Flor de Cana 5 year gold rum; 400ml Havana Club 3 year rum; 250g fresh yellow chillies. Blend the ingredients together and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Distil in a rotovap or water distiller to near full extraction (slow rotation (approx. 80), with bath flask at 60C and full vacuum) – requires about 50 minutes for 2 litres in a 5 litre flask. Distillate will keep a strong nose for 60+ days.

**Passionfruit mango chilli pudding: 200ml fresh mango juice; 100ml passionfruit; 5ml chilli rum; 6g agar agar; 3g xanthan gum (2g and 1g respectively per 100ml liquid). Mix half of the liquid with powders and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Allow the mix to cool to 50C, then add the rest of the liquid and stir will. Refrigerate and allow to set.

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