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Mezcal battle?

Esquire’s David Wondrich has a quick piece introducing mezcal to the spirits ball in the May issue. It’s a great fast pitch on all the things that make mezcal special but we differ on two key areas.  Per Wondrich:

Mezcal, you see, is not easy to mix drinks with, at least if you’re using the artisanal stuff, which is the sort you’ll find in those bars. If tequila is the electric guitar of spirits, artisanal mezcal is Jimi Hendrix’s Strat at Monterey: volume cranked, feeding back like a motherfker, and on fire. We should explain what we mean by “artisanal mezcal,” although if you’ve ever had it, you’ll know.

First, I think mezcal is absurdly easy to mix with, it’s one of the more versatile spirits I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing in a cocktail because it generally has enough body to stand up to bitters, alcohol to mix with fruit and herbacious notes to add something extra to mixed drinks.  I’ll post on this more extensively in the future but our cocktail lab finds mezcal working well wherever you’d find tequila and rum but also in most whiskey and scotch concoctions.  The new favorite drink in these parts is a Manahattan where Del Maguey’s Vida stands in for Old Overholt.  Wondrich does have one excellent idea: If you just want a touch of that agave essence in your drink then wash the glass with it.  I’ve been replacing the absinthe in my Sazeracs with mezcal for quite some time, the effect is transformative.

Second, the perpetual discussion about the meaning of artisanal in the world of mezcal but this time there’s not an ounce of politics in the discussion, it’s more about the layers of artisanal products and their strengths.  It’s true that you’re in for an alcoholic explosion with the Sombra he includes in the article but not all, even most, truly artisanal mezcals are going to blow your socks off with alcoholic burn.  True, the best are going to be 40-47% but many like the Fidencio madrecuixe or pechuga find an ethereal balance between flavor, body and the expression of refined alcohol.

This is just another way of saying, don’t be scared, buy a bottle of Vida and start mixing then splurge on a glass of that Fidencio pechuga when your boss next takes you out for dinner.  You won’t spit fire but you will come back with a completely new appreciation for the confluence of conquistador and Zapotec culture.


Max co-founded Mezcalistas with Susan way back in 2012. Before that he was a journalist at Salon.com and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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