Welcome to Imbibe Magazine's between-issues look at liquid culture with drink recipes, news and more. From coffee to cocktails, Imbibe celebrates your world in a glass.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Drink of the Week: Mezcal

We’ve been celebrating agave spirits lately with our current feature story on artisanal tequilas and mezcals, and today’s Drink of the Week keeps that trend going. At once sweet and savory, and with smokiness to spare, mezcal is the not-so distant relative to tequila. But unlike tequila, where the hearts of the agave plants are oven-steamed, mezcal production involves slow-roasting the hearts in covered, underground firepits. The pulp from the smoked agave is then fermented and distilled, resulting in a spirit redolant of the smoke that permeated it early on. But as a class of spirits, the similarities among mezcals end there. Like winemakers, mezcal producers often talk about how elevation, soil and climate affect the agave plants, which are left to mature for five to 10 years before harvesting. Add to that production methods that have been passed down for generations, and you have a spirit with remarkable depth of character. And that’s one of the things we love most about mezcal—each bottle can express anything from tropical fruit flavors to a sea-air saltiness with levels of smokiness ranging from a touch of campfire to mouthful of barbecue. Wholly satisfying as a sipper, mezcal is also a stellar ingredient in cocktails. Here’s how several bartenders from across the country are mixing the spirit’s trademark smokiness into their own signature drinks.

Mezcal’s unofficial ambassador to the States, Mayahuel co-owner Phil Ward, mixes aged mezcal with apple cider and cinnamon syrup for his warming Cinnsation.

The Other Word speaks volumes to the delicious mixability of a new-to-the-market mezcal.

Wanting to imbue a little smoke into an old classic, Austin barman Rob Pate first experimented with scotch before realizing mezcal was the answer for his Smokey Negroni.

Aged mezcal and an Italian amaro meet in the Los Muertos cocktail from Los Angeles barkeep Raul Yrastorza.

As a desert dweller, Tucson bar manager, Aaron DeFeo found the ultimate refreser with his Oaxacan Ice Water.

Mezcal’s meaty cousin, pechuga, makes an appearance alongside a splash of pineapple juice and a sliver of spice in The Helena.

And for more on agave’s other star spirit, tequila, check out “Heart and Soul” in our current issue, along with a round-up here of some of our favorite aged tequilas and mezcals.