Turn up the heat

Homemade chili syrup and liqueur add sizzle to summer cocktails

Before you get started, assemble your ingredients, including fresh peppers such as habaneros, serranoes and jalapeños. Photos by Matthew Benevoli

Just like summer, Home Bar is bringing the heat! Spicy drinks aren’t new, but have recently experienced a popularity boom, whether the heat comes from hot sauce, fresh jalapeños or spicy spirits. 

We’ll be making something more dynamic and versatile than just popping jalapeños into a bottle of tequila. Chili liqueur allows for balanced, nuanced flavours, can be added or substituted into drinks, and can be as fiery as desired. Or, if you prefer, you can make a chili syrup for all your zero-proof drinks.

There are a couple of decisions to make before you get started.

First, unless you are only making a syrup, pick a spirit base such as vodka, rum or tequila. 

Second, choose your chilies: Poblanos and jalapeños are mild, fresh and vegetal tasting. Habaneros and serranoes have medium heat with tropical fruity notes. Thai chilis and ghost peppers are for those who like it HOT.  Feel free to mix it up and add more than one kind.

Next, choose spices to complement your chilis, such as peppercorns, cloves or cinnamon. You will also need a pinch of salt to enhance the chili flavours.

Finally, select your sweetener: white sugar (flavourless), demerara (molasses notes), honey (floral notes) or agave (fruity, caramel flavours). With any spicy drink, the key is to tickle the tastebuds without overpowering your palate with intense heat. Sweetness helps balance that heat. 

Now it’s time to turn our cocktails up another notch! 

For any questions or additional tips, please reach out to @m.benevoli on Instagram. 

How to make Homemade Chili Syrup and Liqueur

You will need:


• 4 jalapeño peppers
• 3 habanero peppers
• 2 sweet peppers (mini-peppers)
2 cups agave syrup
• 0.5 cup water
• 1 Tbsp green peppercorns
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp whole allspice
• 4 whole cloves
• 1 cinnamon stick
• Optional: 1.75 cups blanco tequila (more if needed)


• Small pot
• Sharp knife
• Cutting board
• Spoon
• Measuring spoons
• Measuring cup
• Cheesecloth/fine mesh strainer
• Sealable jar
• Sealable bottle
• Disposable gloves

1. Wash all peppers and pat dry.

Cut all peppers lengthwise.

2. Cut all peppers lengthwise. (See note.) To reduce heat levels, remove seeds and veins—this is where big heat comes from. Once heat is there, you can’t remove it, so adjust how much you leave in.

3. In a small pot, add agave syrup and water. Place on cooktop over medium low to medium heat. Stir to combine. 

Once syrup is warm, add all spices and chilis.

4. Once syrup is warm, add all spices and chilis. After 5 minutes, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. We don’t want to overheat (cook) the chili peppers. Taste and see if the syrup needs more time to develop flavours (add seeds if necessary for additional spicy heat). Once flavour and heat reach your desired level, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Once syrup is cooled, fine strain.

5. Once syrup is cooled, fine strain. If you want to make zero-proof cocktails, you can use as is. If you prefer to make this a liqueur, add tequila in the following step.

Transfer to a sealable bottle.

6. For liqueur: Pour tequila into a large Mason jar. Start by adding 1 cup chili syrup and stir to combine. Taste and, if needed, add additional chili syrup or tequila until desired balance is achieved. Transfer to a sealable bottle. Store in refrigerator up to 3 months.

Note: When cutting peppers, it’s highly recommended to wear gloves. Without gloves you’ll have to wash your hands multiple times and even then the residual oils can stay on your skin for hours. I touched my eye three hours later and it wasn’t a good situation. Be safe and glove up.

Make these chili-infused cocktails at home:

Spicy Margarita
She’s a Spicy Peach

—Words and photos by Matthew Benevoli

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