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Mezcal’s European challenge

Finding time for mezcal in Italy can be a challenge given competition like this.

Finding time for mezcal in Italy can be a challenge given competition like this.

My recent European swing meant that I was most frequently focused on things other than mezcal like wine, beer, the European cup, and Romanesque architecture. But I did make plenty of time to stop in at liquor stores, chat up bartenders, and other cognoscenti to see what’s up with mezcal in the old world. The results are wildly disparate and, given that I only visited three countries, my observations are skewed but here’s a quick field report.

Mezcal is out there, but it’s early days

I barely found any mezcal in Italy, tiny pockets in France, and something like a swell in London. So, it’s hard to find but there’s definitely something going on over there. Of course I didn’t visit two cities well known for their mezcal bars, Berlin and Barcelona, I’ll just save those for the next trip an encourage anyone in those cities to report back to us about mezcal action in their fair cities in the comments.

And your selection is extremely limited

Even if you really want to drink mezcal your selection is really limited. Of all the liquor stores I visited I only found one bottle, Beneva. Bars stocked a few other selections so options definitely exist but the bartenders I talked to said they really sourced their stuff through friends and specialty distributors so it’s touch and go. Still, in conversations with North American distributors and brands we know that brands like Vago, Del Maguey, and Quiquiriqui are getting European distribution; we’re just not sure how widespread.

The lone mezcal in Carpentras, and elsewhere in France

The lone mezcal in Carpentras, and elsewhere in France

No matter where you go, mezcal obsessives are your friends

Seriously, you know that feeling when you find someone who loves mezcal, comic books, huitlacoche, whatever, as much as you? When you happen upon that person in the most unlikely of locations life suddenly regains balance. One evening while drinking the local artisanal rice beer from the Camargue in Arles’ main square I got to chatting with our waitress. One thing led to another and mezcal entered the conversation which meant that she had to call over their bartender Dimitri who is, naturally, a mezcal obsessive. He experienced his conversation moment while working at a bar in Paris where he met El Jolgorio‘s Asis Cortes and also sampled the extensive selection of Bruxo mezcals. He has mezcal cocktails on the menu at Chardon Arles‘ pop up project, plus he has one of the few supplies of El Jolgorio and Bruxo locally.

Dimitri from Chardon in Arles loves his mezcal.

Dimitri from Chardon in Arles loves his mezcal.

All of this is to say that the path to mezcal is paved in a similar fashion no matter where you go. Find an obsessive, convert them to your cause, and they work on everyone else. People are already curious about mezcal, once they taste it they develop a hunger for it – you just need to foster and fulfill it. I know, I know, easier said than done but the tradition of drinking spirits in Europe also bodes well for mezcal. Just give the local Marc de Bourgougne a taste when you’re in France, grappa in Italy, schnapps in the German speaking countries. You’ll find the similarities instantly.

Grappa's popularity in Europe augers well for mezcal.

Grappa’s popularity in Europe augers well for mezcal.

London calling

Iberico Sour

The Iberico Sour cocktail is featured on the Mondrian London’s cocktail menu.

I was only able to spend a few days in London and even then didn’t manage to visit the real guiding lights of mezcal like Sager and Wilde (which is featuring our friend Lou Bank in a tasting soon so definitely check that out. Email them to see if you can get a ticket, at last notice they were going fast.) But the mere presence of mezcal on London cocktail menus is indicative of where mezcal is going globally: In short it feels like it’s following the same trend as here in the United States with a huge wave of interest in mixing it in cocktails while obsessives that share the  common Mezcal dream are doing everything they can to convert like minded folks.

From the Mondrian London's cocktail menu.

From the Mondrian London’s cocktail menu.

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