People have been wearing shorts for centuries, but “hot pants” are undeniably a result of the disco-era. Popularized by designers in Italy and France, these leg-baring bottoms, characterized by their shrink-wrapped tailoring and economic approach to fabric, were first named in 1970, on the pages of Women’s Wear Daily. They promptly permeated pop culture, infiltrating the airline industry, the James Brown songbook, Major League Baseball and even men’s wardrobes.
It took several years, however, for hot pants to be translated for the bar. The 1974 edition of the Old Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide is responsible for introducing the Hot Pants cocktail: a perplexing combination of tequila, peppermint schnapps, grapefruit juice and powdered sugar, shaken and poured into a salt-rimmed glass. It sounds like it shouldn’t work—and it really doesn’t, at least as originally constituted. But something about the Hot Pants intrigued Tammy Bouma, inspiring her to update the oddball sour for modern tastes.
Bouma, a bartender at The Bluebird Cocktail Room in Baltimore, has long been familiar with Mr. Boston, one of the best-known names in the world of cocktail manuals. The book was published by the eponymous Boston-based distiller from 1935 to 1999, when the brand was purchased by Louisiana’s Sazerac Company. (The last print edition of the book, which now lives online, was released in 2012.) Many of the recipes within its pages have failed to withstand the test of time, but one boon of the book’s ubiquity across a near-century is the fact that all of the new editions reflected the tastes of their respective times.
A 1974 copy that Bouma happened upon while attending Portland Cocktail Week last year led her to the original Hot Pants, a rare tequila drink in the collection’s sea of whiskey and gin, made all the more interesting by its unusual pairing with flavored schnapps. “I’ve always been puzzled by peppermint schnapps—that’s one of those dusty bottles you have and no one’s ever sure what to do with it,” says Bouma. “Seeing it paired with tequila was interesting.”
Following the original Hot Pants recipe to a T, Bouma found that “the flavors were not distinct or bright,” she says. “They clung together. And you really lost the peppermint.” To freshen and streamline the build, Bouma replaced the menthol from the schnapps with fresh mint tea steeped in simple syrup. This step also eliminated any need for gunky, messy powdered sugar.
“The tea syrup, especially when you use the [mint] stems, brings out darker, more vegetal notes,” she explains. This revelation led to her next tweak: swapping out the called-for blanco with reposado tequila. Aged for at least two months, but less than one year, reposados offer a subtler expression of agave, which, coupled with bitter grapefruit, “gave everything a mellower profile … all those nice tequila flavors, without the in-your-face brightness,” she says.
According to Bouma, her update is capable of accommodating a broad swath of tastes. “This drink is for people who like Mojitos, Palomas and Daiquiris also,” she says. For those of us who can’t comfortably rock the barely-there shorts that begat the cocktail, her personal Hot Pants offers a far more democratic fit.