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Libations for All Occasions: Smooth Operator

Libations for All Occasions: Smooth Operator

There are many different types of edible heat, and even more ways to utilize their pleasure—and their pain. Some are so hot they are cool, some are flavor-packed and earn their intensity with tastes to rival, and others simply escalate that discomfort from your tongue to your belly. Still others simply make you sweat and shiver, yet, for some reason, you cannot stop shoveling the flame from plate to palate.

And so, I introduce the Smooth Operator.

This libation cools as much as it heats with a subtle warmth that cascades from your lips to your stomach, making it both a chilly and warm weather drink. I, for one, like ice cubes with my heat. Pairing ginger and cayenne is a favorite pastime of mine, so I thought, why not put them together in a glass and draw their intensity to a head (or a fill line) with the subtle but intriguing bitterness and tang of grapefruit? The most challenging but rewarding part of the process is waiting for the ginger-cayenne-thyme ice cubes to freeze. But, oh, the flavor combo is worth the wait.

I prefer my libation for a more booze-free occasion, but the concoction pairs well with any number of intoxicating additions, from vodka to tequila. Let the foundation of the drink inspire you.

If you don’t like the sophisticated heat you find in this glass…

Well, you can go suck on an ice cube.



12 oz ginger beer; preferably Cock n’ Bull or Goslings

.25–.5 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

1–3 slices grapefruit, for garnish

2–3 sprigs thyme, for ice cubes and drink

16 tsp puréed ginger

1 tbsp cayenne pepper


Time: 3 mins (overnight for the ice cubes)

Servings: 1 libation (cubes for multiple drinks)



Let’s start by making the ice cubes. In a traditional tray with 16 cube compartments (or a tray of your choosing), add 1 tsp of puréed ginger, a ½" cutting of thyme, and a pinch—or more—of cayenne pepper to each compartment. Then, fill each compartment with water and mix slightly. Upon freezing, the ginger and cayenne will layer on the top of each cube. This is intentional.

Once cubes are frozen and ready, move on to the drink! In a highball or, if you want a libation with a little bit more flair, a hurricane glass, drop in 3–5 ginger-cayenne-thyme ice cubes and add .25–.5 oz of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

Pour in ginger beer, slide in a sprig of thyme, and garnish with a grapefruit slice.

Tip: Use diet ginger beer to have the punch without the calories

Photography by Craig Wheeler