I’ve been on a bit of a Mezcal kick since sampling that smoky spirit at the 2015 Cocktail Conference. I was able to hear directly from three Mezcal maestros, or masters, talk about their craft, its origins and how the production of the spirit supports their family. And I was able to interview Aquilino Lopez of Mezcal Vago on camera.
While I have always been a fan of tequila, hearing from the producers in person kindled a newfound passion for Mezcal. I wanted to share it with my friend Matt, a talented filmmaker and photographer I’m attempting to convince to work on a Mezcal project. So to introduce him to the spirit I decided to take him down to Mezcalería Mixtli to sample a variety of spirits.
We met with Jesse Torres who manages the bar who was able to walk us through a tasting of the spirits. I told Jesse that I wanted to get a variety of Mezcals so that Matt and I could experience a range of terroir, or sense of place. Jesse lined us up with six different Mezcals that included:
- Ilegal Joven (Espadín)
- Rey Campero (Espadín)
- Rey Campero (Tobolá)
- Siembra Metl (Cupreata)
- Mezcal Vago (Mexicano)
- Mezcal Vago (Tepeztate)
While I don’t have the nose or pallet to tease out the unique flavors of each spirit, I can tell you that it was amazing to discover how different the mass produced Ilegal was from any of the craft distilleries. It just lacks the nose and body, essentially being a very tame Mezcal as compared to the others. (Side note: I really would like to develop my pallet to fully explain the notes in liquor, I’d be open to any suggestions of how to do this systematically.)
Additionally, there is a difference between the magueys that are only found in the wild, like the Tepeztate and Tobolá. Those particular magueys—the species of plant that is used to distill into Mezcal—are only found in the wild and are unable to be cultivated on a farm.
This is one of the reasons that it’s important to preserve the craftsmanship of the maestros, they have the knowledge of when they should harvest a wild maguey and when they shouldn’t. As Torres told us, one year there may be a Mezcal Vago Tepeztate available, but they may not bottle it until several years later if there is not enough wild Tepeztate magueys available to be sustainably harvested.
One thing that immediately became evident was how pricey a night out tasting Mezcals would be. Mixtli offers two different sizes of pours for the Mezcals—a copita (a 3/4 ounce pour in a smaller clay vessel) and a jicara (a 1.5 ounce pour). The prices are fairly outrageous (the copitas we purchased averaged $10 a pour), but you have to take into consideration that many of these Mezcals have a limited production. Many of these Mezcals have a run of less than 500 liters and are carted over very rural territory—it’s truly a “craft” spirit.
After our sampling of Mezcals, we hung out and shared several of their small plates. The elote made me feel like I was on the fair grounds and was warm and comforting.
The choriqueso was a small skillet of cheese and chorizo, very similar to a queso flameado. While we were far from being inebriated (again, those copitas are very small), this is one of those dishes that would hit the spot after a night of drinking.
But the dish that stole the show was the carnitas. They were more than plentiful, tender and the salsas were outstanding. I particularly loved the little tortillas that accompanied them.
We washed everything down with a couple of their Mezcal cocktails. I had the Amatepec, a boozy Mezcal based cocktail with Xtabentún, a traditional Mayan anise liqueur and honey mixture. I chose that cocktail because I had enjoyed the liequeur while on vacation in the Yucatán. Admittedly, I would have favored an additional jicara of Mezcal Vago’s Mexicano.
Mezcal is definitely an expensive interest—this experience set us back over a hundred bucks—but one that I have found worth exploring. When drinking at Mezcalería Mixtli, be sure to engage with the friendly and knowledgeable staff and learn as much as you can about Mezcal. It will definitely help you the next time you’re in the liquor store on the hunt for a new bottle of Mezcal.