Last summer, during which I lived and worked in London, I went to Imbibe Live at the Olympia. For those of you who don’t know, Imbibe is an enormous annual drinks and wine convention for industry professionals, aka bartenders, sommeliers and dealers. My cousin, a seasoned bartender herself, insisted we pay a visit, so we signed on for passes and went together on one of the beautiful days in early July. The whole experience was great fun, if you’re into the idea, but nothing stands out more than the terrible, hilarious incident of the Naga Chilli Vodka.
We stopped by the Master of Malt stand, one of the last on our circuit, and while my cousin discussed the various whiskeys with the guy at the stand, I had turned away and was chatting to a girl running a charity water booth. I turned back around to a small shot glass being thrust in my face and my cousin, along with two rather apprehensive looking guys she had roped in, looking fiendish as always; it seemed a challenge was being presented. In hindsight, I probably should have known.
I have a pretty solid stomach for high alcohol content, so guessing that what I was being offered was pure ethanol or similar, I decided I was well up for the challenge, and was even determined to keep a poker face throughout. I did the shot.
I remember first feeling proud that it was easy to handle, then immediately disappointed that it wasn’t something strong worth boasting about. But then the regret began. Deep, deep regret.
I wish I could explain what it felt like, because there is nothing on the layman’s scale of “spicy” that really covers this.
To give an idea, here’s a little science: the heat of chillis is measured on a scale of what is known as Scoville Units. At one end of the scale, you have regular bell peppers, which have essentially no scovilles whatsoever. Further up, you have jalapenos, chipotle and Tabasco sauce, between 3,500 and 8,000 units. As an interesting and, actually, terrifying measure of the upper level, personal pepper spray comes in at an agonising 2 million scovilles. (The police version is around 5.3 million, so you know, stay in school kids. But I digress.)
The bottle I spotted from the corner of my eye which sent me into such a panic read this: Naga Chilli Vodka– 250,000 Scovilles.
The liquid was long gone, but my entire body was on fire. It wasn’t like heat, i don’t think my nerves were capable of translating that level of hot, but what I felt was an unmistakable burning, and the familiar feeling of the aftertaste of a hot curry without a drink, but multiplied by thousands.
It’s a personal low point for me to admit that my instant reaction was to shoot to the charity water stand and down every last flavour sample on the tray. Laughing her head off, the lovely lady there tossed over a full bottle from the fridge and I proceeded to gulp that down as well. (I came back after I’d recovered to offer her the price of the water and she waved me away. I’m literally a charity case.)
It took forty minutes before I was comfortable again, and 5 hours before that taste left my mouth. I’m sorry to say that even the taste of that charity water is enough to give me nightmares. I hurled abuse at my cousin for about an hour, so she bought me a cocktail shaker to shut me up.
All’s well that ends well.
And it makes a great story.
If anyone is curious about trying this spawn of Satan, you can buy your own bottle of this or the 100,000 scovilles version HERE .I’m absolving myself of any and all responsibility from here in.