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Posts tagged ‘fidencio’

Mexico in a Bottle DC – kicking off 2017

The Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C.

In the spirit of transparency, here’s some background on how the whole idea of how Mexico in a Bottle – Washington,  D.C. came about:  DC is my hometown, but now, my immediate family lives with me on the West Coast. I miss DC, I miss my friends, and I really needed to come up with a reason to visit. Then there was a random meeting and conversation I had with Pati Jinich, the terrific Mexican chef, culinary anthropologist, and resident chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in DC. She told me that the Mexican culinary scene in Washington was growing. A seed was planted and I told Max that DC needed to be on our shortlist of event cities for 2017. Read more

El Barrio de Guerneville

El Barrio's bar

El Barrio’s bar

Recently word filtered into Mezcalistas HQ about a slip of a mezcal bar in Guerneville, CA – mostly known as a sun dappled escape from the San Francisco Bay Area. You may have caught the Russian River scene recently in HBO’s excellent Looking and, yes, it has been a very prominent gay party and vacation scene. But it always appeared stuck in time like a fly in amber, the same tourist stores, the same restaurants, and one of the worst Safeways in the universe.

Signs of the global hipster experience appeared and didn’t close up shop as quickly as past attempts. A cafe, a whole bank taken over by another cafe/ice cream/pie/boutique concept. Then like a bolt from the blue, a mezcal bar. It’s called El Barrio and it’s a real slice of paradise decorated brightly, covered with tile work,  and a bathroom that is more inviting than most rooms in your house. Oh and they really like mezcal.

El Barrio knows design

El Barrio knows design

On the day of my visit I got to know Crista Luedtke who opened El Barrio and owns Boon Eat + Drink as well as Big Bottom Market just a few steps away from Barrio. Brian L. Frank was pouring a selection of Barrio’s mezcals because he’s helped assemble their list. When he’s not pouring he is a photographer who has done some excellent work including a series on mezcal. His photos are up on the walls in all their glory, absent an in person visit you can take a look at them on his site.

Brian Frank behind the bar

Brian Frank behind the bar

Their baseline mezcal is Fidencio and they also stock some of the rarer Fidencio bottles like their Tepeztate and Tierra Blanca which seldom make many bar appearances. The bar is stocked with mezcals ranging from Mezcalero to Vago, Marca Negra to El Jolgorio so you can set up quite a tasting. And they have quite a cocktail list that embraces the standard margarita variations while expanding the whole concept of mezcal cocktails. Oh and they have a great sangrita.

Just one of the fantastic cocktails at El Barrio

Just one of the fantastic cocktails at El Barrio

Right now it’s really focused on the bar side of things with a tiny list of antojitos including chips and salsa, quesos, and pepinos. Never fear, they’ll soon be adding ceviches and braised pork tacos so that you can snack your way to a full meal while sampling their mezcal list. Bright and breezy design which testifies to the sensibility that defines the entire project. I have to admire someone who carries that right into the restroom which sports a fantastic toilet.

El Barrio's magnificent toilet

El Barrio’s magnificent toilet

Barrio’s staff joined in on our tasting and had some great observations about the mezcals, they all have great palates. You know that you’re in great hands with a staff that’s so professional and personable. Definitely ask them questions, they would love to get you the right glass of mezcal!

How can a mezcal bar exist, let alone thrive, in such a small town? It’s the tourists stupid; the same San Franciscans, Oaklandites, and their brethren who flock to Lolo and Tamarindo. If this effect can be replicated I’m pretty sure this “mezcal is a trend” story will disappear. I know that mezcal makers are especially anxious because that’s one avenue for sales volume. Time will tell but every time I wander by Barrio is full so let’s hope that it’s the canary in this coal mine.

The mezcal cocktail primer

There has been a mini-mezcal bubble in cocktails lately because bartenders have awoken to its potential and because it’s a good introduction to the distillate.  It’s a great backbone or compliment to a cocktail because of its body and complexity of flavor.  We’re almost absolutely sure that the majority of mezcal consumption in the United States goes into cocktails not only because that is how we drink the majority of spirits in the US but also because that’s the way mezcal is being promoted.  But the secret is that mezcal mixes well with almost everything, it really just depends on which mezcal you’re using and how much you want to foreground the mezcal taste.

Exhibit A is the classic margarita.  Instead of:

  • 1.5 0z tequila
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz Cointreau

You can replace the tequila with a mezcal like Fidencio Sin Humo to get a smokeless flavor or Del Maguey Vida to get more of a full bodied agave flavor.  Even better, you can mix half your favorite margarita tequila with half mezcal for something truly distinctive.

The margarita is just the tip of the iceberg.  Mezcal mixes extremely well with any fruit based cocktail whether that be a fruit smash or the simplicity of a daquiri.  The agave flavor that mixes extremely well with sweet fruit and sour citrus.  But that’s just the beginning.

Over the past few months we’ve run through many experiments and have discovered that mezcal works exceedingly well in the full gamut of cocktails.  As a general rule if you’re making anything with a whiskey, scotch or tequila as its base, mezcal slots in as a perfect base.  The classic manahattan works with something like Fidencio Joven, Vida or Wahaka depending on the desired viscosity and flavor. If you find that a mezcal manhattan is overwhelmed by that agave flavor then try switching out the absinthe in a sazerac with a mezcal and see what happens.  In our experience it lends the drink a distinct and fascinating new life.  Not that the old one wasn’t worth living but since we live in an expanding universe you might as well grow with it.

If you’re making something gin or vodka based it really depends on whether and how much you like the flavor of mezcal showing through.  We’ve made mezcal martinis, mezcal and tonics, mezcal greyhounds and many more.  We’ve always found a way to make it work while acknowledging that this is the one instance where you may run into a wall.  Drinkers may prefer a rather flavorless alcohol base for these drinks, dislike the flavor of mezcal placed in such a primary role or simply love their gin or vodka.  If that’s the case the one gin cocktail we really recommend trying with mezcal is the negroni because the bitter campari and sweet vermouth are perfect mezcal partners.

But that’s just scratching the surface.  If you want to start innovating try the simple involution of tradition by taking the same proportions of the margarita, replacing the tequila with mezcal and lime juice with orange juice.  Instead of salting the glass rim use sal de gusano, Oaxaca’s classic mixture of ground up worms, chile and salt. This one glass combines the traditional serving of mezcal – you have a sip of mezcal, dip an orange slice in the sal de gusano and eat the flesh then continue your sipping and chatting.  This recipe relies on spice as a contrast to the flavor of mezcal and citrus.  That sort of foil whether it be salty, bitter, acidic or astringent provides critical balance to mezcal in cocktails.

Which mezcals to use in cocktails?

  • Del Maguey Vida – Somewhat smoky, heavy body and strong fruit
  • Fidencio Joven – Slightly smoky, lean body
  • Fidencio Sin Humo – Non smoky, lean body, slight fruit
  • Metl Joven – Mid-range alcohol and smoke.
  • Sombra – Strong alcohol, mid range smoke.
  • Wahaka Joven – Light and lean.  Not smoky.

There are many others but these tend to be the most widely distributed in the US marketplace and most reasonably priced for a cocktail bar.

Other mezcal cocktail recipes for your drinking pleasure:

 

Mezcal’s party side

The bar

Mezcals set up for our tasting.

Friday night I ran a little mezcal tasting as part of a friend’s 40th birthday party. The social environment brings out the more abrupt and unprompted reactions to mezcal which makes them all the more interesting.

We were tasting:

You can’t take these anecdotal reports too seriously but I was fascinated to find out that:

  • One group of people really likes the leaner, cleaner, tastes of the Wahaka and Fidencio side of the spectrum. They don’t have anything tremendously negative to say about the Vida but they also really enjoyed the Mezcalero.
  • A different group of people really liked Vida and Mezcalero but disliked Wahaka and Fidencio intensely.  Every member of this group mentioned a chemical taste to both.  Some people reacted really violently to that taste so it was a strugglet to get them to keep tasting.  Fortunately everyone soldiered on and ended up enjoying the Vida and Mezcalero.
  • It was fascinating to see a roughly even distribution among these groups.
  • There is a general question about mezcal; what it is, whether it’s tequila, etc. but pretty much anyone is open to an engaged education about the subject when they have a glass in hand.  And, perhaps most importantly, anyone who tasted at least two types of mezcal really enjoyed them.
  • The Mezcalero #3 was a big winner so that’s another win for the silvestres blends.

With all that in mind we’re looking forward to additional tastings.  Stay tuned.

The small world of mezcal, Oaxaca style

First of all, it’s great to be back in Oaxaca. There is the hot sun, warm evenings that lend themselves to long conversations into the middle of the night, over mezcal of course. The smell of fresh, hot tortillas, the bustle of the market, the setting sun over the mountains, and that golden glow that settles over the cobblestone streets.

Enjoying a selection of tobala, tobaciche and arrenqueño at La Biznaga

 

And then there is that whole small world thing, that just seems to get smaller and smaller each week. It all came about when a friend of a friend said to me – oh, my uncle has a palenque and you should meet him. Several flurried text messages later, it was set – we would meet the uncle in Matatlan, the first visit of three palenque visits that day. And so began the usual process of getting the rental car, buying empty bottles, fortifying our stomachs with memelitas and then heading out from the city.

 

Stones being fired for the roast

“We” this time encompassed three women (two foreign, one Oaxaqueña) a baby and the one man, the nephew of the palenquero. We arrived at the palenque and saw that a roast was just getting underway. The stones were being fired up – in this case about 7 hours of heating – and the maguey hearts were being split and readied to go into the pit. It was all very dramatic with the heat, the sound of metal slicing, the dark, pluming clouds.

We escaped into the cool of the palenque and met the uncle, Don Enrique Jimenez, a third FOURTH generation palenquero. He walked us around and showed us two rather extraordinary things – a still created to distill mezcal five times (usually it is double distilled) and a room that looked like something out of a horror movie in which the maguey is steam roasted, creating a “sin humo” (without smoke) mezcal. This is apparently an incredibly expensive and unique thing here and very much an experiment.

Palenquero Enrique Jimenez

The still for 5 distillations

The room for steaming the maguey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conversation ran back and forth between the process, the flavors, the changing dynamics of the mezcal market, and the artisanal brands available in the United States. I mentioned recently tasting the Fidencio Madrecuixe and how much I loved the flavor. Don Enrique smiled hugely and then told me that he was the palenquero for that brand. This happy news was soon followed by some incredibly sad news. Only 300 bottles of that madrecuixe were produced – perfectly understandable and respectful as that is the way of artisanal mezcal production. The sad news: Apparently it is not a good year for the wild magueys thus far. They are too small, their flavor too lacking, the prices to high for any that are good. In short, at this time, there will be no more madrecuixe produced, so if you are one of the lucky ones to have a bottle, enjoy.

Some of Don Enrique Jimenez's brands

 

I am going to continue to look into this situation and will keep you posted. The mere thought of a year of wild maguey shortage is a heartbreak almost too much to bear.