While the rest of the world concerns itself with pumpkin spice, discerning palates ought to consider the tingle of roasted agave. Autumn affords New York with all the right accoutrements to pair with mezcal, in its many forms. You’ve got a chill in the air, root vegetables and other savory fare taking over seasonal menus, and something about the changing leaves evokes the earthy, vegetal characteristics of the Mexican spirit. No reason to wait until Dia De Los Muertos to celebrate. Here’s how to work mezcal into your drinking ritual, without delay.
“I love to pour mezcal in the fall,” says Estelle Bossy of Del Posto. “In large part because its robust smoke and warmth remind me of other classic cold-weather comforts, like the dry blaze of a hardwood fire, or a sipping a neat dram of Scotch.” Behind the bar at Mario Batali’s acclaimed eatery in the Meatpacking District, Bossy prepares the “Bandana”. Although it’s a simple preparation — involving Montelobos Mezcal, (retailing in the city at $50 a bottle) lime juice, and agave syrup — it hits the tongue with a weighty complexity. It’s a collision of sweet, smoky, and tart, backed by spice in the form of a nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon combo edging the rim of the rocks glass.
“If a guest is craving citrus, I like to make a Bandana,” explains Bossy. “It’s basically a Tommy’s margarita (agave replaces triple sec) served with a Persian spiced rim. Most artisanal mezcals are distilled from roasted agave, which is naturally loaded with earthy spice notes (cinnamon, ginger, clove) and sweet toasted flavors (vanilla, pumpkin, caramel), terrific complements to autumnal fare like apples, pears, root vegetables and game birds.”
For a deeper cut, Bossy whips up the “Desert Highway.” It combines the wondrous vegetal mysticism of Del Maguey Chichicapa ($70/bottle, retail) with walnut and saffron bitters. It’s a drink designed to centerpiece the notes of the rich and rounded spirit itself.
As Turkey Day approaches, bartender and mezcal expert Herminio Torres recommends investing in a bottle of El Jolgorio Pechuga. “Bring this one to the table on Thanksgiving,” he advises. “This Pechuga uses a Creole turkey breast in its final distillation to provide the spirit with gamey notes. You also have fruit with a tinge of smoke for good measure. It’s really Thanksgiving in a bottle.” With a price tag just north of $150, you best be a big fan of your in-laws before busting it out this holiday season.
For more casual sipping in the months ahead, Torres points to Ilegal Mezcal Joven, a $60 bottle of un-aged Oaxacan spirit. “It provides a perfect and clean feel for beginners,” he says. “Get it neat and sip.” The Joven is slightly sweeter, and, as a result, far more accessible than most of its counterparts.
If you’re looking for smoke in a bottle, however, Mezcal Amaras Cupreata is a solid alternative at a similar price point. While most mezcal is distilled from espadin, the most abundant agave species in Oaxaca, Amaras Cupreata comes from the cupreata, a relatively rare type of agave, native to the gently sloped hillsides of southwestern Mexico. As an intimate portrayal of its region’s distinct terroir, this bottle is tough to beat.
But when it comes to picking the perfect mezcal, its hard to stray far from the righteous path. “You can ask any mezcal drinker why they enjoy it so much and almost all will tell you it’s because of how it makes you feel,” Torres boasts of his favorite spirit. “A feeling other spirits leave you without — a warm Oaxacan high. Take a sip and let that sensation travel throughout your body, a perfect remedy for the gray and cold ahead. Repeat as needed.”