It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre Restaurants in Southern California, put as much thought and care into his new mezcal menu as he did with the selection of mezcales he has chosen over the years. Born from a combination of finding himself with some time on his hands and in need of some serious solace and stress release during the pandemic, Vasquez has put together what just might be the holy grail for a mezcal menu.
The menu, a book really, is ordered by state, region and agave species (note, not variety). There are maps that show where each region is located within Mexico, drawings of the different species. Each expression is listed by brand, agave variety and where it is from – either the municipality or town name.
Oaxaca alone is 10 pages and opens the door to an infinite number of flights, and the ability to do serious side by side tastings of mezcales from the same regions and agave species, enabling each sipper to further understand the flavors of terroir and the hands of different makers.
What is so quietly subversive about this new menu, and sure to raise eyebrows, is that it doesn’t differentiate between different agave spirits, the menu does not separate each DO from one another, the title page saying it all, Mexico, un país de mezcales. The breadth of selection is overwhelming, and yet reading through it all it just made me excited to return again and again so I could taste through it all.
Over the years, Vasquez has developed a reputation for being a serious curator of mezcal. He has vigorous standards, brands need to be prepared to walk through minute details of each expression from how the agave is grown to how a maker makes his or her cuts in distillation if they are lucky enough to land a meeting with him. The menu clearly shows the care he takes with his selections, and it was interesting to see the number of special and private batches he now has.
“Let’s make tequila mezcal again”
Vasquez does not hide his feelings about tequila and the direction the category has gone. With what seems like a daily launch of a new celebrity brand, he feels the category has strayed far from its roots. At a time when reposados and añejos are in high demand and retailers are having a hard time stocking them on the shelves, Vasquez has eliminated both as well as extra añejos from his bar, only stocking blancos.
He hopes this will inspire other bars and restaurants to follow suit. It’s a bold move, but he is focused on carrying brands and expressions that reflect the gusto historico of agave spirits. In fact, nothing on the menu is less than 44% ABV.
You can peruse the entire menu below, though fair warning, it will make you thirsty, and probably will have you planning a trip to Madre.