May 25, 2018

In Good Spirits: Smoke and mixers

Why mezcal is the spirit of the moment

By Joanne Sasvari

The Stopover cocktail created by Sabrine Dhaliwal at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar makes the most of mezcal’s complex flavours. PHOTO: Courtesy of UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar

Smoke. Citrus. Chili. Pineapple. And is that . . . chocolate?
There’s a reason why bartenders love mezcal. Its complex flavours offer the depth and smokiness of fine single malt whisky, but with the bright freshness and easy mixability of white spirits like vodka or gin. It’s a true craft spirit, harvested and made by hand in small batches, just the way it has been for 200 years. It is, arguably, the true spirit of Mexico.
Like tequila, mezcal is made from the piña of the agave plant. But where tequila comes from farmed blue agave, mezcal can be made from more than 30 different types of agave, some of which are foraged in the wild. Some mezcals are blends of two or more types of agave; others are single varietal or single village mezcals. Most mezcal comes from Oaxaca, though it is produced in other states as well. It has nothing to do with mescaline and rarely has a worm in it, although it is sometime served with “sal de gusano,” a savoury blend of ground salt, chilies and dried moth larvae, which is typically sprinkled on orange slices that accompany the mezcal.
Where the agave for tequila is typically steamed before fermentation, the piñas for mezcal are pit-roasted over wood fires that infuse them with wonderful smoky flavour. And where tequila is often aged in wooden barrels (reposado or “rested” tequila for two to 12 months; añejo for anything longer than that), mezcal is almost always served unaged so as not to hide all the fruit, spice and smoke that’s naturally present.
In Mexico, mezcal is typically drunk neat and served at room temperature. But here in British Columbia, you’re as likely to enjoy it in a cocktail: a mezcal variation on a classic Margarita or Negroni, perhaps, or a new drink like the Stopover, created by bar manager Sabrine Dhaliwal for her spring 2018 happy hour menu at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar.
“Mezcal is a beautiful agave spirit from Mexico and it truly expresses the terroir of the region,” Dhaliwal says. For this drink, she likes the Montelobos mezcal for its tropical fruit and bitter almond notes. “The smoke balances the spiced pineapple cordial, the Aperol accents the fruit notes and the amontillado sherry pairs well with the almond notes.”
Spicy and sweet, savoury and citrusy, with that distinct whiff of smoke. Mezcal has it all, and all in one sip.

Created by Sabrine Dhaliwal at UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar.
1 oz (30 mL) mezcal, preferably Montelobos
½ oz (15 mL) amontillado sherry
½ oz (15 mL) Aperol
½ oz (15 mL) spiced pineapple cordial (see recipe below)
¾ oz (22 mL) fresh lime juice
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake hard for 7 to 10 seconds. Double-strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an orange twist. Serves 1.

Spiced Pineapple Cordial
2 cups (500 mL) cold water
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
½ tsp (2 mL) fennel seeds
1 Tbsp (15 mL) mixed peppercorns
3 to 4 pieces star anise
½ tsp (2 mL) allspice berries
2 cups (500 mL) pineapple juice
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
Combine water and spices in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Allow volume to reduce by half. Strain off solids and discard.  Add pineapple juice and bring to a simmer, reduce by half once again. Add sugar and stir until well dissolved.
Cool to room temperature, store in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

Three to Try
As a handcrafted spirit, mezcal can get pretty pricy; these three, while not cheap, are both versatile and affordable enough to use in cocktails.

Los Siete Misterios—Doba Yej Mezcal
Floral, fruity and subtly smoky on the nose, with more smoke on the palate and a creamy texture. $55.99

Sombra Mezcal
Aromas of spice, citrus and smoke, with a smooth palate and plenty of fruit on the finish. $55.99

Montelobos Mezcal Joven
Loads of smoke here, with salty, peppery notes followed by lemon zest, roasted jalapeño, guava, apricot and a slight nuttiness. $59.64

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