Mezcal, Tequila’s Smoky Cousin with a Big Personality, Explodes in Popularity
Mezcal has a polarizing effect. Either people love its smoky, herbaceous qualities or it completely turns them off. It seems, however, the spirit, cultivated from a variety of agave plants in as many as nine states throughout Mexico, has gained tremendous popularity across the country with more and more restaurant and bar patrons are requesting it for their cocktails.
So why aren’t you stocking it yet?
Unlike its more popular cousin tequila, mezcal derives from numerous agave plants across Mexico, where tequila can only come from the blue agave in Jalisco. The resulting difference is that mezcal offers a breadth of flavors and personalities. Like wine varietals, where mezcal grows and how it’s cultivated can truly alter the end result. Because of that, mezcal is a diverse spirit that plays well with a range of ingredients.
“Mezcal works well with fortified wines like sherries and vermouth or even bitters and amaros,” says Megan Barnes, beverage director of Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, D.C. “Obviously tropical fruit is a no-brainer. A lot of bartenders do spicy pineapple cocktails and I think that’s a little played out. It’s fun to play with other fruits like passion fruit, especially with the tiki boom.”
Beyond cocktails, you can easily add mezcal to food recipes. Pairing-wise, it works well, clearly, with Mexican fare, but also Greek cuisine, spicy barbecue, seafood and Indian food.
“There’s a surprising degree of flexibility when cooking with mezcal,” says Jay Schroeder, bar director for Todos Santos and Quiote in Chicago. “The nice thing is there are spirits you cook with for aroma or the idea of the thing, but mezcal comes through and you’ll experience it in the dish. If you make a sweet pastry element, you’ll get that smoke flavor and bold complexity of the spirit. You’re not playing with one ingredient, but all the flavors and aromas in that spirit.”
Sounds like something you need to start using, no?