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Spiked and Spirited

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It’s hard to deny the appeal of the prickly-pear margarita. But bartenders aren’t stopping there, using the cactus fruit for fun, colorful drinks well beyond the marg

By Kara Newman

With a flavor described as a cross between pomegranate and raspberry, prickly pear has become the taste du jour for Southwestern bartenders. Photo by Willow Arlen.

Without doubt, the prickly pear is having a cocktail moment. The vibrantly pink-hued fruit is produced by the nopales cactus (which also produces edible pads, long eaten by Native people). Get past those prickly little spikes, and the reward is a rosy fruit that yields plenty of sweet, bright magenta juice, making it a favorite for mixing into cocktails.
For example, at Fitz Bar in Vail, Colorado, the fruit is muddled and shaken with smoky mezcal. While at Windsor in Phoenix, a prickly-pear mixer is added to local whiskey and egg white for a sophisticated craft cocktail approach.
Sometimes it doesn’t even need booze: The Watershed in Bryan, Texas, offers an appealing mocktail with housemade prickly-pear syrup and club soda, garnished with a sprig of lavender.
Harvesting the fruit and extracting its juice is a bit of a project — many pros recommend handling the spiky fruit with gloves and tongs, boiling the pears and then straining the pulp carefully to remove all spikes and seeds. But the reward is a succulent sip, with a flavor described as a cross between pomegranate and raspberry.
Of course, for those not brazen enough to pick a peck of prickly pears, there are plenty of commercial prickly-pear purées, syrups and cocktail mixers to round out cocktails. San Pellegrino even makes a prickly pear-and-orange soda. The fruit is also infused in some spirits, such as Western Son South Texas Prickly Pear Vodka and Canyon Diablo’s Sonoran Rose Prickly Pear Flavored Vodka. (In addition, it’s worth noting that some spirits, such as Texas Prickly Pear Cactus Moonshine and Spike Vodka, are distilled from the prickly pear cactus pads — not the fruit — and don’t have the same sweet-tart flavor.)
Beyond the bright hue and tantalizing sweetness, these drinks hold an additional allure: After all, what could be more Southwestern than drinking a cactus fruit?

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