Mix up cocktails with Mexico’s smoky export for drinks with satisfyingly earthy flavor
STORY: Lia Picard | PHOTOS: Erik Meadows
In the heat of summer, it may be tempting to cool off with a refreshing cocktail like the margarita, but this year we’re sipping tequila’s smoky cousin, mezcal.
Although mezcal’s history dates back more than 400 years to when the Spanish conquistadors taught Mexicans how to distill liquor, only in recent times has the spirit risen to prominence. To learn more about it, we chatted with Adolfo Gonzalez, coowner and chef of Taco Cantina in Old Fourth Ward, and Thandi Walton, the restaurant’s drink menu consultant.
Unlike tequila, which is mass produced, mezcal is still made on a smaller scale. “Mezcal is very artisanal. Some call it the father of tequila. It’s similar to tequila, but made with a different process that makes it very artisanal,” Gonzalez explains. Mezcal is made is by extracting the piñas (hearts) from agave plants and cooking them in an in-ground pit with lava rocks, a method that imparts the smoky flavor. Next, the piñas are mashed and distilled; some go in to barrels to be aged in a fashion similar to whiskey. Because mezcal is made in 11 Mexican states with a variety of agave plants, each has a terroir associated with it.
You likely won’t hear people singing about mezcal making them take their clothes off. “It’s great for sipping, not taking shots,” says Gonzalez. The best way to enjoy it is simply in a glass. “It opens up more once you place it in a rocks glass, neat,” says Walton. Although, she does find that people love it in cocktails, too. “A lot of people are looking for mezcal old fashioneds, margaritas and mules. But a lot of people are also asking me to just make them something with it, which I love.” One of her default mixers for mezcal is lemon juice, which brings out the spirit’s sweetness.
At Taco Cantina you’ll find mostly blanco mezcal. This is un-aged and a bit easier for uninitiated palates. But even within these young mezcals there are variations. The Montelobos is salty and smoky with a silky mouthfeel. For an easy introduction, try the Ilegal mezcal, whose smokiness is stronger in the finish. After dinner, try the Banhez, smooth with floral notes that pair excellently with ice cream. At home, play around with mezcal infusions. Walton recommends throwing in hibiscus and chipotle pepper for a flowery yet spicy sipper.
480 John Wesley Dobbs Ave. N.E., 30312
Try one of these mezcal cocktails around town:
A fruity, slightly bitter blend of mezcal, aperol and pineapple rum lure-atlanta.com
Sleepless in Jalisco Punch
Gunshow, Glenwood Park
Mezcal, passionfruit and blood orange come together for a juicy concoction gunshowatl.com
Bone Garden Cantina, Westside
Sweet and spicy mingle in glass with Serrano pepper-infused mezcal, brown sugar and peach bonegardencantina.com