For this month’s column, we are heading south of the border. At a trade show recently, I tried mezcal for the first time. WOW !! Amazing flavor profile !! I’ve always enjoyed tequila, either in a shot, or in a cocktail, but this was different- smoky, textured, smooth sipping. After the show, I was talking with a friend, and realized there was much I did not know about tequila (or mezcal).
Much like the old adage “all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbons”, not all mezcals are tequilas, but all tequilas are mezcals. Mezcal is defined as any agave-based liquor, which would include tequila. Tequila may only be made in one of five regions, and only from blue agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from one of thirty varieties of agave, and may be produced in one of nine different areas of Mexico. Tequila and mezcal are made from different types of agave, made in different regions of Mexico, distilled differently, and labeled differently. The only thing these two spirits have in common is that they are both made from agave.
Agaves are succulents, and although they look very similar, they are not a cacti or an aloe relative. Tequila and mezcal are made from the harvested core of the agave plant, or the pina.
Mezcal is typically produced using a traditional method-it is cooked inside clay pots that are placed in earthen pits lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal. It is this fuel that accounts for the smoky flavor that is typical of mezcal. Once the distillation process is over, mezcal and tequila are both aged inside oak barrels. Mezcal, like tequila, is labeled according to the amount of time it is aged, although the age categories vary slightly from those used for tequila.
So how is mezcal best enjoyed ?? The smoky flavor and smooth texture doesn’t need “dressing up”- serve it neat, or over ice for casual sipping. For something more festive, try it in one of these cocktails !
The Paloma is a classic tequila cocktail, and my personal favorite ! Tweak the ingredients just a bit to come up with this riff on the Paloma that shows off the smoky mezcal-
1 ounce mezcal
1 ½ tsp honey
1 ½ ounces Cocchi Americano
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice
pinch of salt
1 ½ ounces seltzer
Cucumber, Salt, and Smoke
One inch cucumber slice, chopped
1 ounce pisco
1 ounce mezcal
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 large egg white
pinch of salt
3 drops of bitters, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber. Add the pisco, mezcal, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and salt, and shake well. Add ice and shake again. Decorate the top of the drink with dots of bitters and swirl.
2 ounces mezcal
½ ounce Benedictine (brandy based herbal liqueur)
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce orgeat (almond flavored syrup)
½ large egg white
pinch of nutmeg
Maguey is another name for agave, the succulent used in mezcal and tequila. This twist on a whiskey sour is worth the effort !!
To an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add all ingredients except garnishes. Shake well. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with grated nutmeg and orange twist.
Written by Richard Edwards. Permission to publish by The Local.