Welcome to Pick Your Poison, wherein the world’s best bartenders help stock your bar, one spirit at a time.
“It’s not only the spirit of Mexico, but it truly encompasses the ‘spirit’ of Mexico.”
We’re not talking tequila. Today, we mean Mexico's other spirit: mezcal. And we're getting a crash course from a true expert, Courtenay Greenleaf, a certified mezcalier and the spirits guru behind NYC’s Rosa Mexicano and its subterranean cocktail bar offshoot Masa y Agave (which features more than 400 agave spirits).
Mezcal is complex. As Greenleaf told us, it takes agave at least 12 and up to 25 years of growth before it's ready to be harvested. While great on its own, mezcal is also ridiculously versatile for cocktails. Featuring a flavor profile that includes smoke, fruit, herbs, vegetables, earth and even funky cheese, you can replace the main spirit in almost any classic drink with mezcal and it’ll be delicious.
“There are so many natural components that come into play in the flavor of any given mezcal: agave varietal, terroir, cooking technique, type of stills used and if used what type of barrels,” Greenleaf says.
Below, she picks out five unique mezcals and how to use ‘em. Wanna try ‘em today? Click on the "BUY IT HERE" link to go to Drizly, the booze delivery service that'll get you your spirit in under an hour (depending on what city you're in, of course).
“This is my go-to mezcal for cocktails. It's great as a sipper as well. It's loved by many bartenders across the country, as it's versatile, traditionally crafted and a great price point. Harvested and cultivated in the valley of Santiago Matalan in Oaxaca. It has nice smoke, pear and green pepper notes.” BUY IT HERE
“It is not necessarily traditional to age mezcal, although amongst the few that do, this my favorite. It’s aged in American and French oak barrels for 13 months. The combination of the smoke coming together with the oak lends a bit of sweet, smoky, orange, raisin, chocolate and leather. This mezcal is perfect to cozy up to. It’s complex with so much personality.” BUY IT HERE
Del Maguey Pechuga
“Pechuga, meaning ‘breast,’ is a particular technique used in making mezcal. During the third distillation, fruits of local harvest are rested in the still along with a raw chicken breast hanging at the top of the still. Del Maguey uses clay Japanese style sills with bamboo tubing. It’s triple-distilled using the local harvest of wild apples and plums, red plantains, pineapples, almonds, rice, star anise, canela and chicken breast hung at the bell of the still. This spirit has notes of apple, plum, gamey, plantain and rice. Not vegetarian!” BUY IT HERE
“This is a beautiful mezcal made from wild Cupreata, from the state of Guerrero (the predominant state for mezcal production is Oaxaca). It’s complex with subtle smoke, roasted pumpkin seeds, leather and bright bell pepper.” BUY IT HERE
La Venenosa Costa
“Raicilla is such a unique agave spirit, coming from the coastal region of Jalisco. I refer to Raicilla as ‘Mexican Moonshine.’ Costa is made from the agave called Rhodacantha. After it's cooked, it's hand malleted then distilled out of a hollowed tree trunk. Very complex characteristics lending notes of salt, green olive and cedar.” BUY IT HERE
Main image: Paul Sableman / Flickr Creative Commons