At the recent VIBE Conference, one of the representatives of a mobile company that tracks beverages sales at about 15,000 restaurants pointed out that mezcal sales soared in 2015, increasing significantly each quarter. To connect with beverage sales tracking companies and make other invaluable industry connections, attend the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas. Use code SAVE30BARNEWS when registering to receive a discount of $30 on your pass.
Mezcal still is a spirit category with a rather small base, and many restaurants only use the (usually) smoky spirit as an accent rather than lead ingredient in cocktails. But right down the road from the 2016 VIBE Conference in San Diego, a modern, Mexican street food restaurant showed how well mezcal can integrate into even the most middle-of-the-road food service establishment.
Puesto is a crowd pleaser. In fact, one damp Monday night, the outdoor lounge area, tables and booths were filled with families, groups and couples looking for a quick and easy selection of various street-style tacos. On the beverage menu, however, are some truly avant garde offerings, including some well-known but rare agave spirits: Del Maguey Vida (including their rare Ibérico), El Fidencio, El Silencio, Scorpion, and other brands that have also found their way into bars across the country. More surprising, however, was the presence of 2 sotols (a distilled spirit made from a wild-growing variety of agavacea called Desert Spoon), a raicilla (made from a fermented mash of maguey plant roots), a bacanora (often referred to as the missing link between mezcal and tequila), 2 tepeztate (made from wild agave that can take 30 years to reach maturity, hence the rarity), and other sorts of traditional and hard-to-find agave spirits.
A total of 21 of these rare finds are available at Puesto, ranging from $10 to $56 (for Pierde Almas Conejo). You've probably heard about or tasted mezcals distilled with a chicken breast suspended in the rustic still, or even the Del Maguey Ibérico (which replaces the chicken with cured Spanish ham). Some pechuga are made with wild turkeys but Pierde Almas Conejo gets a rabbit instead.
The latter isn’t the most expensive agave offered at Puesto, which has another location in La Jolla. A shot of Gran Patrón Burdeos clocks in at $60. And while there are mostly tequila-based cocktails on the list, two mezcal-based treats stand out, two of decidedly different types and appeal. The first, El Mezcalito (Vida, guanabana, tamarind, lime leaf, charred orange) is highballish: light, refreshing, quaffable but noticeably rich with Del Maguey Vida, fast becoming the American bartender’s favorite in mixed drinks. The other, Desperado (mezcal, Carpano Antica, dry curaçao, walnut bitters), is more of a strong and stirred (and tasty) rascal, less of an introductory mezcal cocktail and more for those who prefer their drinks potent and punchy. But both are great introductory cocktails for those unfamiliar with mezcal, and chances are, we’ll be seeing many more in 2016.