Lesser-known spirits from Mexico are being featured at bars around the country
There’s nary a bar these days that doesn’t have a Margarita on its menu, or its own version of the drink. But to really differentiate, some venues are turning to other Mexican spirits, which are well known south of the border, but little known in the US.
Part of the problem is they’re just not distributed here, but that’s slowly starting to change.
Puesto is a three-location chain of traditional Mexican restaurants with bars in Southern California, and it features three of Mexico’s hot spirits: raicilla, sotol and bacanora.
“From the beginning, our concept has been focused on creating a really well-curated list of everything, not necessarily what people associate with Mexican fare. And when it comes to spirits and the bar in general, the focus is the same – finding the unique and best expressions of individual spirits and presenting those,” says Lucien Conner, general manager and beverage program director.
Puesto carries at least one or two of each of the three spirits, plus many mezcals, since they’re better known. It serves these drinks on their own, because Conner wants customers to experience the unadulterated flavor of these drinks and “try them for what they are.”
They offer tastes and flights to get customers intrigued. “Giving them three quarter-ounce pours lets them try different things and really gets the conversation started,” Conner says. For the flights, there are a couple on the menu featuring two mezcals and one of the other spirits, or customers can make up their own flights, he says. The cost is around $16.
“We are demonstrating what you can find in Mexico in an authentic way rather than what people would expect to find in an American restaurant,” says Conner. “It really pushed us to seek out some of these spirits and offer a list where people can taste a diverse range of flavors. While there are many styles and nuances with tequilas, there are so many more when you start playing with the world of agave spirits.”
When serving drinks many guests haven’t heard of, it’s important to train your staff and have them taste everything, Conner says. “If you just write this on the menu, the guests that don’t know these names will just pass them over. We spend a lot of time training staff. It’s all about excitement and getting people jazzed up.”
These Mexican spirits don’t come cheap: $11 to around $40 for a 1.5-oz. pour. They are typically made using an extreme amount of labor and artisanal processes, and in small production volumes, hence the higher-than-usual costs.
Created by bartender Patrick Natola at Sable Kitchen & Bar
- 2 oz. Sotol
- 0.75 oz. Fresh lime juice
- 0.75 oz. Housemade cucumber syrup
- 2 drops Bittermens’ Hellfire Habanero Shrub
Shake, strain and serve up in a coupe. Garnish with spiced salt cucumber wheel on rim.
Created by the team at Tonto Bar & Grill, Cave Creek, AZ
- 1.5 oz. Rancho Tepua Bacanora
- 0.5 oz. Triple sec
- Housemade sweet and sour
- Splash orange juice
- Orange slice and prickly pear-hibiscus ice cube (which changes the color and flavor of the drink while you drink it as it melts)
Measure out Bacanora and triple sec into a cocktail glass with ice. Fill drink with sweet and sour and splash of orange juice. Garnish with prickly pear-hibiscus ice cube and an orange wedge.
Created by Alex Valencia, co-owner of La Contenta, New York City
- 2 oz. Raicilla from the Sierra
- 0.5 oz. Campari
- 0.5 oz. Grapefruit juice
- 0.5 oz. Lime syrup
- 0.5 oz. Rich simple syrup
- Orange peel oils
Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass. Perfume with orange peel oils.
Created by Courtenay Greenleaf, corporate beverage director, Rosa Mexicana
- 1.5 oz. La Venenosa Sierra Occidental Maximilliana
- oz. Carpano Bainco
- 0.5 oz. Cappalletti
- 1 dash Grapefruit bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass over ice and stir with bar spoon until well chilled. Strain into a double rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with lemon peel, expressing the oils over top of the cocktail.