Underserved is a recurring Y&H feature highlighting the best cocktails you’re not ordering.
What: The Sneaky Pete with Espolón Blanco tequila, red bell pepper juice, agave, lime, bell pepper salt, and Hellfire Habanero Shrub bitters
Where: Mason Social, 728 Henry St., Alexandria
What You Should Be Drinking Mason Social’s take on a margarita doesn’t come with an imaginary wagging finger to remind you of how many calories Mexico’s signature drink carries. That’s because Beverage Director Tony Burke substitutes red bell pepper juice for sour mix—the sugary, caloric culprit Burke says can lend “a gut rot kind of feel.” He adds tequila, agave, lime, and Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub to the flamingo-colored cocktail before garnishing it with a lime twist and a half-rim of red pepper salt. Burke makes the salt by drying the pepper membranes spit out by the juicer, then running them through a spice grinder with kosher salt. Those who crave the taste of tequila might not dig the drink because other ingredients mask the spirit’s signature sting, which is partially how the drink got its name. The Sneaky Pete goes down easy, so you can toss back a few before the tequila catches up with you. The name is also a nod to Burke’s grandmother. “She used to call me ‘sneaky Pete’ when I was younger and trying to get away with stuff that I had no business trying to get away with,” he says. Sneaky Tony doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Why You Should be Drinking It Despite Burke’s efforts, the Sneaky Pete isn’t getting enough love. “The red bell pepper juice is keeping people from drinking it because they expect it to be like drinking V-8 with tequila,” Burke says. But there’s no trace of V-8’s gazpacho taste. Instead, the mellow red pepper flavor contributes to a refreshing, balanced gulp that marries ingredients from the kitchen and behind the bar. Perhaps the words “hellfire” and “habanero” also sound like a challenge your taste buds don’t want to take on. But, the addition of the habanero shrub adds only a quick pop of heat before dissipating. The easy-drinking aspects of the Sneaky Pete means it doesn’t have to be nighttime to enjoy it. Consider subbing it in for a bloody mary at brunch.