Meet Mezcal

3 smoky cocktails for autumn

A first encounter with mezcal is like being greeted by a warm, smoky campfire and drawn into a cozy, comfortable embrace. A place to savor and linger, the mind might wander from après-ski weekends and cool winter nights to autumnal, alfresco gatherings.

It’s James Taylor and Barry White smooth with Adam Levine sex appeal. A little trendy, edgy, alluring, versatile … yet distinguished from its counterpart tequila.

Though both are made from agave, mezcal is rooted in traditional processing methods and primarily in small batches. It has a designer, artisanal appeal and awakens the senses with smooth, subtle characteristics. Like wine, it draws distinct influence from the rich terroir where it is harvested.

According to John McEvoy, aka Mezcal PhD, “It can be made from a wide variety of agaves, and unlike tequila, each imparts its own unique identity to a mezcal flavor. It has remained true to its 400-year-old, handcrafted production process utilizing earthen, rock-lined pits—‘palenques’—to roast the hearts of the agave, large wheels to grind them, natural yeasts to ferment it and small-batch stills to distill it.” Not yet industrialized, almost all mezcal remains an intriguing elixir with ancient processing methods and artistry.

As a precursor to trying what is considered to be the “next big thing,” we asked a chef and a few mixologists, knowledgeable on the craft cocktail movement, to give us their favorite beverage recipes using mezcal. From simple and traditional to more complex, here are the top three.

Honeysuckle Mezcal Daiquiri

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Chef Nick Librato, executive chef of the Venice Whaler and a featured chef on Bar Rescue, shares one of his favorite cocktails: the Honeysuckle Mezcal Daiquiri. As Nick states, “This cocktail has a perfect balance of sweetness, acidity and smokiness. Just what I need after a long day in the kitchen.”

2 ounces mezcal, Del Maguey, Chichicapa
3/4 ounces lime juice
3/4 ounces honey syrup

To make honey syrup, add hot water to honey in small amounts at a time until the honey loosens up and pours. Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake with ice and strain over one big block or sphere of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with lime peel.

Tasting Notes: Deep, sweet, complex with heavy citrus overtones. Smoky, herbal, mint finish with a slight hint of chocolate.

Mixologist Note: Adjust the sweet honey or sour lime to your preference.

Smoky Old Fashioned

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The traditional Old Fashioned doesn’t disappoint, although this smoky mezcal version, from the team at Terranea Resort, will likely lead to a new exciting habit.

2 ounces mezcal, Montelobos
3 dashes Angostura bitters
3/4 ounces simple syrup

Garnish with orange twist in a rocks glass on an ice cube or sphere. Combine all ingredients with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Add an optional cherry.

Tasting Notes: It has a strong smoke nose, then combines sweet roasted agave with a spicy white pepper note on entry. When you combine these profiles with the orange, simple syrup and bitters, it produces a very well-balanced cocktail.

Mixologist Note: Terranea uses Montelobos Mezcal. Montelobos is a 100% Highland “Espadin” agave from Oaxaca.

Fireside Winter Spice

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Shawn Refoua, founder of SF Mixology, says, “Mezcal is one of those liquors best enjoyed in small quantities. The same holds true for cream. Thus we’ve put together these two decadent ingredients for a full-bodied experience (and buzz) in short volume.” This one’s created by Rico Gonzalez.

1½ ounces mezcal
¾ ounces creme de cacao
½ ounce Licor 43
1 ounce Douglas Fir brandy
1 barspoon (1/8 ounce) heavy cream
1 large orange
red apple
cassia cinnamon stalk

In a mixing tin, add mezcal, creme de cacao, Licor 43 and heavy cream. Shake and strain into a serving glass. Fill glass with crushed ice. Garnish with orange “leaves” and apple slices.

Orange Leaves: Peel a large orange and hand-cut several decorative leaves.

Cassia Apple Slices: Cut red apple into slices. Soak in Clear Creek Douglas Fir brandy for 10 minutes. Grate cassia on one side of apple slices. Bake in oven at 300º for 5 minutes.

Tasting Note: The consistency and texture of the cream adds structure for the smoky undertones of the mezcal to remain alive and vivid. The apple garnish provides contrast and acidity without otherwise curdling the cream from directly adding citrus juice to the drink.

Mixologist Note: Savor the apple slices while sipping. For crisper apples, don’t bake. Douglas Fir brandy is difficult to locate at stores, so plan ahead and order it online. It runs about $45 a bottle. Or substitute with yellow chartreuse, B&B, applejack, or a flavored brandy or liqueur.

For more on mezcal, visit mezcalphd.com, delmaguey.com and montelobos.com.

Written and styled by Kara Mickelson
Photographed by Mark Comon