Drink Magazine

Thirsty Thursday: Liquid Smoke

By Lucasryden @saborkitchen

“Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” ~ Oaxacan proverb

You’ve probably never heard of mezcal, and that’s a shame.  It’s a shame because you’re missing out on one of the most dangerously delicious alcohols in the world.  Mezcal is tequila’s mysterious older brother, the one who wears leather jackets and smokes cigarettes on his Harley – a little rough around the edges, if you know what I mean.  Both spirits are derived from the same plant, but they don’t associate much.   You’d never find Mezcal hanging out in a sissy margarita glass.

thirsty thursday: liquid smoke

So what exactly is this mystery spirit?  And why haven’t you heard of it?  Let’s start with the basics: the word mezcal comes from the indigenous Nahuatl language, meaning “oven cooked agave.”  It hails from the Oaxaca region of southern Mexico, where thirsty Spanish conquistadors started producing it several hundred years ago.  Like tequila, mezcal is derived from the heart (or piña) of the agave plant.  The piñas are harvested and  cooked for several days in traditional pit ovens, which consist of smouldering fires covered with earth and rocks.  This roasting is what gives mezcal its signature smoky flavor and distinguishes it from tequila (whose piñas are steam-cooked in a brick oven).

Despite its popularity in Mexico, mezcal remains relatively unknown here in the United States (mescaline, however, is a different story).  Some say its strong, smoky flavor is too much for our Anglo-Saxon taste buds to handle.  But I disagree.  I don’t think mezcal ever had a chance, that it’s always been grossly overshadowed by the billion-dollar tequila industry.  Thankfully a few American bartenders are starting to experiment with the “Mexican scotch,” as I like to call it, and they’re proving all the critics wrong.  Mayahuel in New York City has devoted itself to putting Mexican spirits on the map, serving a variety of mezcal-based cocktails with ingredients like apple cider, cinnamon, and celery bitters.  Sadie in Los Angeles has taken an even bolder approach by pairing it with Italian vermouth and Cynar.  What these mad men have in common – besides excessive body ink – is a vigilante spirit that would leave Hunter S. Thompson shaking in his boots.

thirsty thursday: liquid smoke

America needs mezcal.  Just like we needed craft beer, heirloom tomatoes, and single-malt scotch.  The age of Wonder Bread has come and gone, and people are starting to demand artisanal products from faraway lands.  Strange is good – foreign is better.  So I’ve crafted a provocative new cocktail that highlights the distinct, smoky flavors of Oaxacan mezcal.  A real man’s margarita.  One that makes Jose Cuervo look like a Mexican schoolgirl.   So if you’re in the mood for something light, look elsewhere.  Liquid Smoke doesn’t mess around.

2 oz mezcal
2 oz lime juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 tbsp agave nectar (or honey)
1 serrano chili
dash of Angostura bitters
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/8 tsp chili powder

Directions: Combine brown sugar, chili powder, and sea salt on a small plate.  Wet the rim of a margarita glass and dip in chili salt.  Pour mezcal, lime juice, lemon juice, and agave nectar into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Cut a small piece (fingernail size) from the serrano chili and add to the mix.  Shake well and pour into the salt-rimmed glass.  Finish with a dash of bitters, then swirl with a knife to create a “smoky” effect.

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