Mezcal is a Mexican spirit produced from a variety of agave other than the Blue Weber used to fabricate tequila. Also unlike tequila, the agave piñas are often cooked in wood-stoked pits instead of kilns, which gives mescal a smoky flavor. Although still somewhat of a rarity, the spirit is appearing on more tequileria drink lists.
“Mezcal is an extremely small category that is folded into tequila. But I think mezcal is growing rather nicely,” says David Ozgo, chief economist for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).
“People have gotten curious about mezcal,” says R.J. Andrade, general manager of Agave restaurant, bar and nightclub in Avon, CO. Agave carries about a dozen examples of the spirit. The Del Maguey brand is popular, he says, and the bar features it in the Del Maguey Mezcalrita ($7.75). “Mezcal appeals to those tequila fans who have been there, done that.”
Mezcal is great for sipping or mixing; “it adds a smoky accent,” points out Safa Zaraga, owner of Huerto Restaurant & Tequila Bar in West Bloomfield, MI, which stocks some 15 mezcals. “The category isn’t hot yet, but it should be taking off, I think,” he observes. “People who are into tequila are trying mezcal.”
New England restaurants Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria and Mixteca Mexican Food & Margaritas offer a selection of 16 mezcals, says managing partner Sergio Ramos. “Travelers have discovered mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico, and they come here looking for them.”
Four cocktails have mezcal as a base, including a Mezcal Rita ($11) and the Mezcalita de Piña, which mixes mescal, grilled pineapple, cilantro and fresh squeezed lime juice, garnished with jalapeño slices ($10).The Austin, TX-based Iron Cactus Grill & Margarita Bar chain Iron Cactus carries a mezcal from Oaxaca. “There is a lot of interesting mixology going on with mescal,” notes general partner Gary Manley. “I believe interest in mezcal will continue to grow. It’s not a fad, but here to stay.”