First Impressions from First Sips
Don’t let anyone fool you. Mezcal is hardcore. Take that from someone who habitually orders absinthe or Fernet. Mezcal isn’t for the faint of heart.
For the most part, every cocktail trend begins in New York City. This summer when I was there, mezcal was on cocktail menus throughout the city. I sipped and sampled a couple of multi-ingredient cocktails (in between slurping as many noodles as I could) and resolved to learn more about mezcal when I returned home.
I was late to the party. That trend wasn’t beginning—it was in full swing, and when I returned home, the smoky agave liquor was enamoring mixologists and craftsmen all over the South as well. I just hadn’t noticed. It was time to learn.
Locally in Charleston, SC, The Warehouse has one of the most extensive collections of the stuff, so the editorial team sat down to sample and learn a bit more. I had enjoyed it mixed in cocktails, so I was a little blindsided by what I tasted.
I thought mezcal was tequila’s country cousin. While it is, it has a lot more in common with a peat-y Scotch than its Mexican relative.
It is smoky, it is hot, and it is interesting
- Americans may love it, but we can’t decide how we want to spell it. Both “mezcal” and “mescal” are used.
- With good tequila, you shouldn’t need “training wheels” (lime and salt). With mezcal, I needed any accoutrements served with it, which included a traditional sugar/salt mixture, in order to avoid making an ugly face.
- It is smoky because it’s smoked, often cooked on lava rocks in a pit oven.
- Ninety percent of it comes from the Oaxacan region and there is a staggeringly wide range of styles.
- Bartenders love it because it presents a challenge with its often intensely smoky flavor profile. “How can I balance this?” bartenders think. And bartenders love trying to answer that question.
- Since style and flavor components widely vary, people become collectors, just like they do with Scotch. That’s how The Warehouse became such a hotspot for it. Owner James Groetzinger developed an appreciation for the stuff when he was in Central America.
Apparently, it’s something that the more you know, the more you want to know. And despite its smokiness, I want to try it again.
Editor’s Note: We are not stopping at a beginner’s interpretation. Look for mezcal tips from an expert coming next week to thelocalpalate.com.