Mexico’s other agave gift
By Simon McGoram
Photography by Rob Palmer
Presented by Jessica Arnott, Gardel’s Bar, Sydney
Bartenders have long been touting mezcal as the next big spirit to take over back bars, cocktail lists and even earn a trending hashtag on Twitter. The reality is it’s got a long way to go with high entry level prices, limited availability and challenging flavour profiles meaning it’s mainly bartenders serving mezcal to other bartenders at the moment.
Progress is being made however. Through sustained bar geek pressure suppliers are starting to bring a more reliable supply of quality mezcal to Australian shores. With greater availability and more reasonable prices (though a quality drop will never be cheap) local bartenders are getting more experience at wielding this singular, smoky and rustic spirit.
You see mezcal is a magic drop – in good examples it mystically combines pure fruity agave flavours with crazy bitumen, burnt rubber and barbeque notes. It’s sweet with a savoury dryness. It’s spicy with a fruity mellowness. In short, it’s damn tasty.
As much as I love a smoky Scotch in my mind mezcal offers more potential to the world of cocktails due to its juxtaposition of savoury and sweet flavours. Like tequila lime is an obvious simpatico partner as are tropical fruits like grilled pineapple or passionfruit. Ginger snuggles up to the smokiness of the spirit as do other fiery spices like chilies, chipotles, and peppercorns. The herbal notes of monastic liqueurs like Chartreuse work a treat too covering that smoky fist of flavour in a velvety robe of fresh mountain herbs. Give rosemary a go, thyme, sage – any of your more resinous garden herbs.
Whatever your flavour I implore you to give mixing with mezcal a go if you’re not seasoned already. I’m not going to say you can’t go wrong (I’m sure you can do that spectacularly), but the more you get it in your mouth, experiment and offer it to customers the more likely there’ll grow a market – however niche. It’s something you should do out love for the spirit.
Of course you needn’t take any advice from us – the excellent PDT Cocktail Book offers several cracking mezcal cocktail recipes. And two of the mixes featured in these pages are adapted from Jim Meehan’s original recipes.