6 Top Mixologists Weigh in on Mezcal

Bonfort’s always likes to go to the streets when it comes to getting a real picture of how a brand, category, or sub-category is performing. We asked six top mixologists to evaluate mezcal’s performance, its uses, its demographic and its future. They name their favorite brands, how they serve them and the communication they afford curious consumers.

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, which means your opportunity to educate customers is ripe. Don’t waste it.

Lucas England, Mortar & Pestle | San Jose, CA & San Mateo, CA

Lucas England

Favorite Mezcal: Rey Campero Madre Cuishe. It’s my favorite sipper. It’s rich and lightly smoked, with hints of tropical pineapple and papaya.

Serving Suggestion: This Madre Cuishe varietal is almost too good for cocktail embellishments. I prefer it served in a snifter to allow it to open up and emphasize its palate-hugging mouthfeel.

Thoughts on the Category: It seems that mezcal producers are experiencing a few challenges due to an increase in demand. The overuse of wild agave and poaching will restrict the supply. Wild agave is not farmed but they’ll need to be started in plantations to increase the supply for the demanding and growing customer base.

My Customer: In my experience, the guests are looking for value in mezcal and love a good single-village story. Most are not to educated on varietals or production methods, but would love to know more about these things. I enjoy telling guests why these mezcals are so special and vital to the Oaxacans, and they are usually really delighted by the story.

Ryan Autry, The Blind Pig Kitchen + Bar,  Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

Ryan Autry

Favorite Mezcal: My favorite line up of mezcal comes from El Jolgorio. This is a brand of wild and semi-wild agave mezcals, which is everything a mezcal drinker could ask for. Harvested and distilled by local Mezcaleros from villages in Oaxaca, these showcase the beauty of the agave plant and the terroir of the surrounding area. My favorite of the El Jolgorio lineup is the Pechuga. During the distillation process a raw guajolote, or turkey breast, is hung inside of the pot still and cooks as the vapors pass up and through over to the condenser producing a very meaty flavored mezcal. The savory and oily tastes imparted from the turkey lend a wonderful accent to the smoked agave juice that I know and love.

Serving Suggestion: This is absolutely a sit back and sip for your enjoyment kind of mezcal.

Thoughts on the Category: I’ve slowly watched as mezcal has caught on with the younger generations of drinkers. The craft connoisseurs and “gotta drink them all” community is constantly on the lookout for something they’ve never had before, or never heard of. This is where I believe mezcal can grow and take root. It’s a hard move for the old school drinkers who love the smoothness of their tequila, but those who love the peat from their Isle scotches have been more open to tasting and trying mezcal. The largest hurdle that I’ve come across is the myth and misunderstanding that mezcal is a cheap tequila alternative. That it’s the “bottom of the barrel” type of spirit. I could not disagree more with this sentiment.

As bars and restaurants move into more of a ‘Trust Us’ mentality without the feeling of pretentious judgment, we can encourage guests to broaden their palate and try something new and delicious. Additionally, we have found huge opportunity at utilizing mezcal as a split spirit or even substitute in many of our tequila-based cocktails.

My Customer: The younger crowd has seemed to be our best mezcal drinkers. The hipsters and cocktail nerds who are on the hunt for cocktails they’ve read about or seen on Instagram. I love these people. They’re unafraid and unabashed in their adventurous pursuit of amazing libations. The knowledge of mezcal is still very raw. The understanding of the roasting and distillation process is there. But the fun really comes from educating them on the different agave varietals and the flavors that they lend to the mezcals. The Oaxacan Old-Fashioned and Mezcal Negroni have been goto cocktails for many of our regular cocktail aficionados. One of our house cocktails that has caught on through the years is our Mezcal Off Duty cocktail. A stirred potent sipper that blends the beauty of Mezcal with Meletti Amaro, Calisaya bitter liqueur, and Smoked ice together for a wonderful flavor of smoked and salted caramel.

Mat Snapp of Fox Restaurant Concepts

Mat Snapp

Favorite Mezcal: For sipping, El Jolgorio Madrecuixe, a joven-style mezcal. It’s incredibly smooth and soft, but it still has a smoky backbone to remind you that you’re drinking mezcal. It’s one of the softest, prettiest mezcals I’ve had – it’s accessible for people who don’t know if they like mezcal yet. I like El Jolgorio as a brand because they focus on micro-region and production-specific mezcals, and offers nine different expressions. This allows people to geek out on mezcal the same way they do wine — climate, fruit, region — it all makes a difference in the finished juice.

Serving Suggestion: I serve El Jolgorio Madrecuixe neat in a copita or a small, unassuming glass. It’s so smooth, its best on its own. For cocktails, I do an Italian Mezcal Sour at The Henry with Banhez and a Piccantino at North Italia with Agave de Cortes.

Thoughts on the Category: I think the popularity of mezcal will rise, plateau, and then slowly drift back down. It will be at the height of its popularity in about two years if I had to guess. In five years, it will settle into a spirit of note. There will definitely be a bigger fan base for it than there is now.

Your Customer: There are three categories of mezcal drinkers: extroverts; curious; and, connoisseurs. Extroverts drink it for shock value, and there’s less and less of those. The curious don’t know much about it yet but are interested to learn more and connoisseurs are out there seeking new and rare varieties, collecting experiences and labels like rare watches. Each has a story. Each has a time and place.

Emily deKanter, Point & Feather, Chicago, IL

Emily deKanter

Favorite Mezcal: My favorite Mezcal is the Mezcales de Leyenda from San Luis Potosí, made from the agave salmiana. Rather than being cooked in conical pits in the ground, the agaves are cooked in a clay oven, giving them a sweet and clean, yet vegetal and fresh taste. When people tell me they don’t like mezcal because it’s “too smoky”, I love to show them this. There is a mezcal out there for every kind of drinker, which makes it a really fun spirit to work with.

Serving Suggestion: I love a balanced and interesting mezcal cocktail, but I’ll still order an ounce pour of the mezcal on it’s own so I can taste and smell exactly what it is offering the cocktail. I will say there is no wrong way to drink it!

Thoughts on the Category: Mezcal has blown up significantly in the last couple of years, I see it becoming a bar staple right next to tequila, vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey.

My Customer: My mezcal customers are focused and curious, they are perusing the agave section of the bar before they even sit down. They respect how long it takes and how much labor goes into producing what they drink. They ask questions about where the agaves come from, how they are cooked, how the agaves are ground, whether they use open-air fermentation or proprietary yeast, what kind of still, and who the mezcalero is. They want the details! People who appreciate agave spirits can find something interesting and enjoyable about most spirits. Gin drinkers love the botanical and grassy mezcal, scotch drinkers love the ashy and peaty mezcal, bourbon drinkers a smoky sweet espadín. Let your bartender know what you like and they should be able to steer you in the right direction.

Chris Simmons of Farmer & the Seahorse and Green Acre, La Jolla, CA

Chris Simmons, the mixologist and food & beverage director for Farmer and the Seahorse and Green Acre, Chef Brian Malarkey’s casual eateries located in La Jolla, CA. Chris has a passion and appreciation for creating successful agave-spirit focused programs. He was the curator of the All Agave Club at the prestigious Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, as well as the Catador’s Corner tastings and quarterly Tequila Dinners at The Patio on Goldfinch where he opened that restaurant as the General Manager.

Favorite Mezcal: I’m a huge fan of Bozal Ancestral  mezcal, made from Papalote agave. While the whole category of mezcal is unique due to the large variety of agave used as well as various methods of production, I find this particular offering to be unique. It has an incredible depth of character with elements of floral, mineral and citrus notes. It’s at once soft, approachable and delicate, while also complex and rich with character. It’s like an amazing novel: the further you dive into it, the more you discover.

Serving Suggestion: Always neat. While I encourage people to drink their agave spirits any way they find pleasurable, it’s always neat for me.

Thoughts on the Category: I’m certain we’ll continue to see an integration of mezcal into the everyday drinking habits of consumers across the country. Education will influence and positively change preconceived notions of the spirit, encouraging drinkers to understand mezcal as not just a strong, smoky cousin of Tequila, but rather a spirit rich in history, tradition and flavor profiles.

My Customer: Our customers enjoy mezcal offerings mostly through cocktail integration; from a direct offering like the split base Nuevo Old Fashioned featuring Los Javis Espadin and Bourbon to a refreshing drink called Green With Envy featuring Los Javis Espadin  Tru Organic Garden Vodka, jalapeño, basil, and cucumber. Our Mezcal Mule is very popular as well, with Espadin, lime, Angostura bitters and Fever Tree Ginger Beer. Our guests are curious about mezcal but not aficionados, so cocktails are the most approachable and successful way we’ve found to include not only mezcal, but other Mexican spirits such as Tequila, sotol, raicilla and bacanora within our bar program. Salud!

Jessica Zarate, Casa Amate of Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera, Playa del Carmen-Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Jessica Zarate Mixologist at Casa Amate located at Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya.  works with a diverse Latin American cuisine. The restaurant has a unique and sophisticated residential concept as it was designed to resemble the home of an eclectic traveler that is passionate about Latin culture. The business is built around a courtyard overlooking the resort’s surrounding lagoon with a special Amate tree, which gives the venue its name. The cocktail menu is carefully curated and the restaurant and the resort offer a wide variety of Mezcals and tequilas.

Favorite Mezcal:  My favorite Mezcal is The Danzantes Espadín. It is an artisanal Mezcal that has an authentic process of elaboration. Specifically, the Espadin agave has a gentle taste and is quite different than other Mezcals like Cupreata or Durangensis.

Serving Suggestion: If you are enjoying Mezcal for the first time I recommend that you drink it neat with a slice of orange and the traditional worm and salt. However, now you can find Mezcals that are distilled perfectly that can be enjoyed in cocktails and with mixtures.

Thoughts on the Category: I see the consumption of Mezcal growing significantly over the next five years. This will open the doors for consumers to try different types of Mezcals including the silvester agave.

My Customer: Our regular guests request Mezcal if they know about it or have previously enjoyed it elsewhere. Guests request specific brands as they love the smoky taste. We also have guests that are looking to try something new and expand their palate and we recommend a variety of Mezcals for them.

Natasha Swords
Natasha Swords

Natasha Swords is an accomplished editor and writer with 20+ years of creative composition, reporting and management. She hails from Dublin Ireland where she held the position of Editor at Jemma Publications. Natasha honed her editorial skills by delivering engaging content on a wide range of topics, before finally focusing on the alcohol beverage and cannabis industries. She is Editor-in-Chief at Bonfort’s Wine and Spirits Journal as well as Drink me Magazine, where she leads all editorial content from story-idea generation to commissioning freelance writers and photographers. She also heads up CannEpoch, a lifestyle publication for the newly cannabis curious. In 2018, Natasha launched Bonfort’s Wine and Spirits Journal from inception, as well as the Bonfort’s Lifetime Achievement Award, a top-tier industry event connecting leading brands with key buyers. Steeped in the alcohol industry media, she was previously editor of Off-License Magazine, California Beverage News and Patterson’s California Beverage Journal (now Tasting Panel Magazine), and ran corporate communications for a number of alcohol supplier companies including TGIC (now Guarachi Wine Partners) and distributor, TITAN Wine and Spirits.

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