Many thanks, friends, for your votes in the Foodbuzz Blog Awards! We were very flattered to find out we won the Best Cocktail/Spirits Blog, especially up against the likes of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Jay Hepburn and Michael Dietsch—all friends who do excellent work on their own sites.
That said, we’ll take our happiness and get on with what you’re here for: the drinks. Mixing things up a little bit, today we feature a spirit that is largely unused in cocktails, mostly because it has just recently become widely available in this country outside of the Southwest. Mezcal is a cousin of tequila which dates back to the Conquistadors arriving in South America, when the Spaniards introduced and applied the process of distillation to native fermented beverages. Both spirits are made from the piñas, or hearts, of the agave plant which are cooked before extracting, fermenting and distilling the resulting juice. That is about where the similarities end.
According to Mexican law, tequila can only be produced in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, while mezcal is largely from Oaxaca (wah-hawk-ah). This affects the terroir of the spirit but additionally in mezcal production the piñas are roasted for days in heated rock pits, imbuing an intense smoky flavor that is not found in the baked piñas of tequila. Mezcal production is still largely uncommercial, as most of the labor-intensive traditional methods are still employed—all the way, in some cases, down to hundred-year-old clay pot stills used to produce the final spirit. To produce true artisan mezcal on a major scale would be a difficult task, which means that most of the best mezcal you can buy in the States is on the expensive side. It’s completely worth it, however, if you enjoy it’s particular smokey, earthy, vegetal character.
2 oz mezcal
1 oz Pimm’s No. 1
¼ oz simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Combine all ingredients in an iced mixing glass and stir until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.
This was adapted from The Art of the Bar, the book from Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco. Jeff Hollinger, the bar manager, is a tequila and mezcal fan and mezcal pops up in quite a few drinks on their menu. This drink was published as essentially a Manhattan variation—2:1 spirit to liqueur with bitters. The mezcal we used, Los Danzantes, is an excellent, dry spirit which made this drink quite delicious—but unfortunately a bit too assertive and unbalanced.
We softened the edges by adding a quarter ounce of simple, which really tied everything together. The Pimm’s and Peychaud’s turn the drink a beautiful rosy hue which belies its punch and helps its appeal. If you are already a tequila fan or are just curious about mezcal, this would be a good drink to start with. I find that smokey spirits like scotch and mezcal are very warming and appropriate during the fall and winter. Here, the flavor of the mezcal comes through without being as pronounced as it is straight (even though we both like it that way too), but it softens some of the more aggressive edges and helps to meld its vegetal notes into something more familiar—and, of course, delicious.