Mezcal is ready for its moment.
As customers expand their palates and drink through whiskey and tequila, they will inevitably seek new categories to explore. Makers of premium rum are betting on, as are producers of mezcal.
Mezcal is made from a blend of many agaves. This is unlike tequila, which is produced only from blue agave. Mezcal also tends to be smokier and sweeter that the other white Mexican spirit, and comes from a different area of Mexico (Oaxaca) than tequila (mostly in Jalisco).
Customers today have a taste for products that are unusual, authentic and of high quality. This is likely how many will first try mezcal. And for these adventurous drinkers, the smoky, spicy spirit also makes for some interesting food pairings.
I recently had opportunity to attend a mezcal lunch pairing at Cosme in Manhattan. The three cocktails served showcased the great range of the spirit. More specifically, they all contained and highlighted the new-to-market brand Creyente Mezcal Joven (40% ABV, SRP: $50 per 750-ml. bottle).
The first course was quinoa salad with black sesame, nopal and watercress. Along with this dish we were served the Purple Corn cocktail: Creyente, St. Germaine, shochu, Dolin Blanc and fresh lime. The drink had a sweet, smooth body that gave way to a smoky, delicately spicy finish.
Most people think of mezcal as spicy — justifiable so. In the Purple Corn, this spice was subdued by the sweeter elements. That is, until the finish, when the spice emerged as a nice closing note.
The overall lightness of this cocktail matched perfectly with the lightweight salad. If one followed a bite of the salad with a sip of the cocktail, then the Purple Corn’s pleasantly hot finish provided just the right exclamation mark to the drink/dish combo.
For the second course I selected the duck enmoladas with red mole sauce. The drink pairing for this was named Small Dose, made with Creyente, Paul Beau VS., Yellow Chartreuse and Demarara.
The cocktail looked and tasted like a Sazerac, only significantly spicier. After being light up front it quickly brought the heat. Here, the bartender let loose the natural spice of the mezcal. In matching this cocktail with the red mole sauce, heat met heat in a balance of power. Spicier dishes are natural pairings for this spirit.
Then came dessert: husk merengue and corn mousse.
With this we were served a third take on mezcal. The Improved Carajillo contained Creyente, Liqueur 43, Coffee and Cream Float. It began smooth and creamy, and finished with a smoky, peppery bite. The former qualities matched the light sweetness of the dessert dish, while the finish again served as a pleasing exclamation mark.
As lunch demonstrated, mezcal can fill a variety of roles within cocktails — from a bold and spicy base, to a lighter, smoky note — matching with a variety of dishes as desired. Especially for those who enjoy a little spice in their life, mezcal is a food-friendly spirit for any discerning drinker who’s looking for that next interesting sipper or cocktail.
Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @kswartzz.