What happens when tequila becomes too trendy? Hipsters in Mexico City seek out a smokier sip and embrace their heritage in the process. Such is the story with mescal, a 450-year-old, made-in-Mexico spirit that predates tequila, but has been virtually unknown until now.
“The mescal movement is being driven by urban Mexicans who are connecting to the countryside,” says Eric Lorenz, president of Lorenz Agave Spirits, a company that imports mescal and tequila to Canada.
Tequila is technically a kind of mescal made from blue agave plants, usually in Jalisco state. In contrast, mescal itself can be made from many species of the agave plant, in many Mexican states. The agave hearts are roasted in an underground pit with black oak or mesquite wood for three to six days, a process that infuses the agave with mescal’s characteristic rich, smoky flavour.
Mescal’s nuances are best appreciated by savouring—not shooting—the spirit on its own. “Sipping is the primary thing going on in Mexican mescal bars,” says Lorenz.
For those intimidated by sampling a spirit neat, mescal bars in North America also offer it in cocktail form. New York City’s Pulqueria uses it in libations such as the Tomatillo (green tomatillo, pulque, lime, mescal). La Mezcaleria in Vancouver features craft cocktails made with a selection of boutique mescals. Finally, Añejo in Calgary stocks 32 kinds of mescal served in flights or shaken in cocktails that enhance its smoky character, such as the El Matador (see recipe). This sweet and smoky sipper makes embracing mescal an easy sell, no matter your heritage.
El Matador recipe
- 1 oz. Oro De Oaxaca Mescal
- 1/2 oz. Pierre Ferrand Curaçao
- 1 oz. lemon lime juice
- 1/2 oz. agave nectar
- 2 dashes Angostura Orange
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Jalapeno ring (one garnish, one shaken in)
Chill glass, build ingredients in Boston glass. Shake and strain into chilled glass. Garnish.
— Recipe courtesy of Añejo
Where to Drink a Michelada
While the refreshing michelada cocktail has been served in Mexico for decades, it has also evolved over the years. Try a version of this salty drink at La Mezcaleria in Vancouver, Diablo in Los Angeles or at Original Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston. Plus, a recipe to make your own.