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:
- Del Maguey’s compendium of mezcal cocktails
- Esquire’s Long Goodbye aka The Mezcal Gimlet
- Food Republic’s Ramos Gin Fizz with mezcal
- Mezcal PhD’s Remixed Old Fashioned