Drink of the Week: Mezcal

By Paul Nelson

I was first introduced to mezcal when I inherited a half-bottle from my best friend who was moving away for work after college. I didn’t really know what it was, but it was cool because there was a worm in the bottom of the bottle.

I haven’t had mezcal in the last 20 years probably, but I happened upon a bottle of it at the local grocery store and picked it up for nostalgic reasons. Then I stumbled across this article in Slate on the burgeoning mezcal industry and figured it was time to do put that bottle to use. 

Tequila and mezcal are kissing cousins. Tequila must be produced from the Jalisco region of Mexico, while mezcal comes from the area around Oaxaca. Tequila can only be distilled from blue agave, but mezcal can be distilled from a variety of agaves. Traditionally, mezcal is considered the equivalent of moonshine – a basic liquor for the working man. However a growing international market is changing all of that, and you might start hearing about it more often than before. Yours may or may not have a worm in the bottom (my current bottle doesn’t), but that’s not really a critical issue. Most folks believe the worm-in-the-bottle was invented in the 1940’s or 50’s by a mezcal entrepreneur as a marketing gimmick. Traditionally it is a moth or butterfly larva that feed on the agave plants used to produce  mezcal.

If you like tequila, you may or may not like it’s close cousin, mezcal. Chances are if you like scotch, you’ll find some affinity with tequila’s smokier neighbor. But I say that, admittedly, as a non-scotch aficionado. Both have smoky flavors, but the quality of that smokiness is decidedly different and even a scotch neophyte like me can tell that. Mezcal is more complex than entry level tequilas, but I’m not sure if there is an aged mezcal that could rival an añejo or super-añejo tequila for complexity and subtlety. It sounds like a fun quest, though!

mezcal-cocktail

You won’t find a lot of cocktail recipes that utilize mezcal. You can try subbing it in for tequila in various drinks, and you’ll find it changes the character of the drink a lot. But you’ll have to decide if that’s a good thing for you or not. I don’t care for mezcal-based margaritas, but in other drinks it substitutes more favorably.

The drink below is a loose variation on a Harvey Wallbanger, but it has elements of other drinks as well, including a favorite of mine that I’ll try to remember to share with you next week. I found this recipe through the online bartending site webtender.com. A quick Internet search turned up multiple variations on this named drink, but this is what I made tonight:

ODWITS

  • 5 oz mezcal
  • 5 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Southern Comfort
  • orange juice
  • Galiano

Shake or stir the first three ingredients together and pour over a glass filled with ice. Top the glass off with orange juice, stir, and then drizzle a splash of Galiano (which you have left over from the Harvey Wallbanger, of course!) over the top.

The smoky overtones of the mezcal will be obvious but the edge of the liquor will be muted by the sweetness of the orange juice and Southern Comfort.  Frankly, I’d just as soon ditch the vodka and split the difference between the mezcal and the Southern Comfort.  This drink is a good summer option as it’s refreshing and easy to drink.  You may find mezcal popping up in your local grocery store liquor section, but  you’ll more likely find it at this point in a well-stocked liquor store.

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