Sunday, June 23, 2024

Cocktails made with mezcal, the ancestral Mexican drink 

The popular saying is, “Mezcal doesn’t get you drunk, it makes you magical,” and who are we to argue? Unlike its cousin tequila, mezcal on its own will not produce a hangover for most people. A strong, quick buzz, though? Yes. That’s because mezcal converts into polysaccharide sugar, which begins disintegrating immediately upon contact with the tongue. Other alcoholic beverages, including tequila, convert into monosaccharide sugars, which must be processed by the liver, resulting in hangovers. If you mix mezcal and other alcohol, chances are you’ll have a heck of a hangover the next day.

The similarities to tequila start and end with the fact that both are made from the agave plant. Tequila is technically a type of mezcal and can only be made from Weber blue agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from up to 50 different kinds of agave, so its taste, blends and alcohol content vary wildly.

Mezcal can be enjoyed by itself. (Canva)

Both spirits have the coveted Denomination of Origin designation, meaning they can only officially be produced in certain areas, in the same way that Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France and the name Parmigiano Reggiano can only be given to a certain kind of cheese made in a certain part of northern Italy. Mezcal is made in nine Mexican states: Oaxaca, Durango, Puebla, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas and Tamaulipas. By law, a spirit only needs to be 51% agave to count as tequila, although high-quality brands can be up to 100% agave. Perhaps it’s because most mezcals are 90-100% agave that magical qualities are attributed to it!

Mezcals are defined in three categories according to how they’re processed: mezcal, mezcal artesanal and mezcal ancestral. Mezcal is the most commercial and industrial, and those varieties will cost less than artesanal and ancestral, which follow age-old methods, made by hand and cooked in clay pots over fire or pit ovens. Buy the best you can afford, or splurge on a tasting at a mezcal bar to fully enjoy the range of flavors.

Mezcal is best enjoyed slowly and purely, unadulterated by mixers or other alcohols. It has a distinctive smoky taste –  the result of roasting the agave core, or piña, before pressing – a host of subtle flavors. Mezcal is not meant for chugging. Citrus – whether orange, lime, or grapefruit – pairs well with it and helps balance the palate; a mezcalero or knowledgeable bartender can be helpful in exploring various kinds of mezcal.

Mezcal Dirty Martini

  • 4 Castelvetrano olives, for garnish*
  • 4 oz. (120ml) mezcal
  • 1 oz. (30ml) Cointreau or Curaçao
  • 1 oz. (30ml) fresh lime juice 
  • 1½ oz. (45ml) olive brine* 
  • 4 dashes orange bitters

Chill two martini glasses. Thread two cocktail picks with two olives each.

In a cocktail shaker, place mezcal, Cointreau or Curacao, lime juice, olive brine and bitters, then fill 2/3 full with ice. Shake until well chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into chilled glasses, garnishing each with a cocktail pick. Serve immediately.

If you can’t find Castelvetrano olives, consider halving the olive brine and adding more to taste, as salt levels vary drastically.

Pink Lady

  • 1½ oz. Aperol
  • ½ oz. mezcal 
  • 3 oz. prosecco
  • 1½ oz. soda water
  • Lemon for garnish

Fill a large wineglass about three-quarters full with ice. Add all ingredients garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

Mezcal Royale Punch

Just in time for holiday gatherings!

  • 6-8 limes
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1½ cups / 12 oz. blanc vermouth
  • ¾ cup / 6 oz. mezcal
  • ¾ cup / 6 oz. Cognac or brandy
  • 3 cups / 24 oz. club soda
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle cold, dry sparkling red wine, Lambrusco or sparkling rosé

Peel 4 limes; place peels in a medium bowl if using a muddler or a medium jar if using the end of a rolling pin to muddle. Reserve the limes. Add the sugar to the peels and work it in until they start to turn slightly translucent, about 2 minutes. Set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Juice the reserved limes to yield about ¾ cup juice; juice more if needed. Add juice to the lime peel mixture. Stir – or cover and shake the jar – until sugar dissolves. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids, and transfer to a large bowl. This can also be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)

Add vermouth, mezcal, Cognac and 2 cups cold water; stir to combine. Pour mixture into resealable bottles or jars, cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

To serve, pour the mixture into a large punch or serving bowl. Add club soda and stir gently to combine. Fill individual punch glasses with ice and ladle punch into the glasses; top each with a splash of sparkling red wine and a lime slice. Makes 18-20 (4-oz.) drinks

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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