Have you met tequila’s slightly more diabolical cousin, mezcal? If your palette has grown from frozen swirl margaritas, to rocks with salt, to sipping straight as an aperitif, mezcal might be your next stop.
The potent spirit comes from Oaxaca, Mexico’s culinary capital, home to such famous savory delights as mole sauce and Oaxaca cheese. Like tequila, mezcal is distilled from the extract of the agave plant. Whereas tequila is made exclusively from blue agave — its production and labeling are governed by laws similar to those for wine — mezcal can be made from 11 different varieties of agave, resulting in a wider array of flavors. Mezcal gets its signature earthy smokiness from fire-roasting the plant for two to three days in underground pits prior to distillation.
Mezcal packs such a smoky punch, it can be off-putting to the uninitiated. Think of it as splitting the difference between a good tequila (like Herradura) and a peat-intensive Scotch (such as Laphroaig). When choosing a mezcal, look for the type of agave used to make it. The most widely available category is espadin, which is rich in sugar with subtle fruit and floral notes — a good choice for mezcal newbies. Another common variety is tobala, which has a minerality and brininess along with bolder fruit flavors.
If you’ve never experienced mezcal, try it straight. Sip slowly to experience the full range of complex flavors. If you’re ready for some mezcal mixology, give one of these tasty cocktails a shake. ¡Ole!
Instructions: Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker and stir to combine. Strain into martini glass garnished with lemon twist.
Instructions: Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously; strain into chilled glass garnished with orange twist.
Instructions: In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine all ingredients except for sparkling water. Allow mixture to sit overnight. Top with sparkling water and serve chilled.
Instructions: Combine liquid ingredients in cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously; strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Holding a lit match over the glass in one hand, quickly squeeze orange strip (orange side facing the flame) until oils spark. Drop orange peel into cocktail and serve.
Instructions: In the bottom of a chilled glass, muddle mint leaves until fragrant. Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously; strain into glass. Add one squeeze of fresh lime juice. Serve garnished with additional mint leaves, if desired.