Agave Blossoms, but This Time It's Mezcal

In a few years, the mixologically-minded may look back at 2012 as the first summer of mezcal. Even potentially bad news is paying dividends; bartenders who have been instrumental in spreading the word about a potentially destructive new rule by the Mexican body that oversees agave spirit production rules, have alerted their peers that there is something special going on in those bottles of smokey agave. (For information about the regulatory fuss, go to the Tequila Interchange Project website.)

Meanwhile, there’s an explosion of cocktails including mezcal:

  • At Sepia restaurant in Chicago, head bartender Josh Pearson included in his summer menu Guide to Better Living – mezcal, Lillet rosé, muddled strawberries and lemonade.
  • At Craigie On Main in Cambridge, MA, head barman Ted Gallagher mixes mezcal, Thai chili, date molasses, house-made orange and lemon syrup, lime juice, molé bitters and sparkling wine for his Civilian.

Sepia Bar in Chicago and Josh Pearson, head bartender

In the back room of popular Austin, Texas, spot Takoba, the bar Cantina El Milamores now offers more mezcals than tequilas, many mezcal-based cocktails, and a flight menu that features and contrasts various agave varietals and villages. Mezcal, tequila and sotol (another legally defined Mexican agave spirit) all get their own separate Old-Fashioned treatment there. Need more examples to understand why companies like William Grant are introducing their own mezcals (the just-released Montelobos)? Most Americans are only starting to shake an unpleasant image of the often complex and always robust spirit.

The bar team at Lexington Social House in Hollywood, Ca., collaborated on the Baja Fizz, combining Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, fresh strawberry, pickled fennel, ginger syrup and lime juice.

Burnt Honey Mezcal and TK Mezcal Margarita

At chef/owner Richard Sandoval’s new Tequileria Maya, featuring over 100 agave-based spirits, in New York City, mezcal drinks include the Burnt Honey – mezcal joven, lime juice, burnt honey and Whiskey Barrel Bitters, shaken and served in a chilled Martini glass and garnished with a burnt honey-coated orange peel.

Need more proof?

At Aspen’s Justice Snow’s, there’s the Tequila Fresco (sotol, Esprit de June, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, cucumber, grapefruit, mint and agave syrup); and La Ultima Palabra (Illegal Reposado Mezcal, V.E.P. Green Chartreuse, Leopold Brothers Maraschino and lime juice).

But if the future drink historian looks back even deeper, he may find that this dry and searing summer brought more icy drinks to the fore. At Washington, D.C.’s Estadio, the slushito continues to make waves, including one made with sherry and shisito peppers; another grapefruit, rum and chamomile, and another with strawberries, Campari and basil. At the above-mentioned Justice Snow’s, the impressive menu has a section of frappes, like Poets’ Dreams (Robs Mountain Gin, Benedictine D.O.M, Bonal Gentiane Quina, and honey drizzled over crushed ice).

Frozen cocktails?

At the Green Pig in Clarendon, Va. outside Washington, DC, chef Scot Harlan and his team’s high test push-up pops are getting the brunch treatment in flavors of Tequila Sunrise, Mimosa, Greyhound, and more. Rumor has it that Bloody Mary frozen treats are not far behind. You never know, though - that future historian might actually mark 2012 as the year wine milkshakes started out on a country-conquering march.

Select Southern California area Counter Burger locations just started serving three wine-based milkshakes - Pinot Noir with cherries, chocolate and vanilla ice cream; a peach Bellini-like blend of sweet white wine, fresh peach nectar and vanilla ice cream; and a Mimosa-like mix of white sparkling wine, orange juice and vanilla ice cream.

Giggle if you like, but if you’d told most people five years ago that hundreds of non-Mexican bars would be serving mezcal in cocktails…

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