Mezcal board at La Loba Cantina
The need to endlessly push the boundaries of exoticism / obscurantism in the cocktail world has created a new “spirit of the moment” seemingly every few months. (Seriously, did anyone actually own a bottle of Aperol before 2014?) Mezcal came and stuck, likely because it gave innumerable American tequila drinkers the opportunity to sip something with a bit more of a…romantic aura. (For edification, tequila is actually a kind of mezcal.)
Brooklyn’s La Loba Cantina are also in it for the long haul. The BKNY food police, of course, are notorious for going on about “authenticity”; but “The She-Wolf” genuinely looks like a place you’d stumble across on a random street corner in Oaxaca. Yet despite the obvious pleasures of its elote salads and calabaza quesadillas, its religion is, unquestionably, mezcal.
No surprise, the vagaries and particulars of the national trendometer has led to the creation of a National Mezcal Day, tomorrow, October 21. What better time, then, to finally begin your relationship with the mystical Mexican spirit?
“Quality mezcals, made from 100% agave, are best experienced sipped, not shot,” explains co-owner Jeff Burfield. “And if it’s going to be a late night, sipping mezcal is a great option – it’s simple, straightforward, and the purity means you can sip it for long periods without the unsavory consequences you get from many grain alcohols or sugary mixed drinks.”
To properly fete National Mezcal Day, we asked him for his current top mezcal picks; for the full experience, he’s also provided the perfect soundtrack to accompany each.
Fidencio Clásico (Espadín) $35
One of the best all-around mezcals out there – it’s versatile enough to enjoy neat, but affordable enough to use as a cocktail base. Mineral and clay flavors temper the pleasant, but not overpowering smokiness, the body is slightly richer and more robust than most espadins. Definitely a bottle to keep in your liquor cabinet for unannounced company.
Pairing/How to Serve: Serve with sliced oranges and a little chile salt or sal de gusano (worm salt). The citrus cleanses your palate between sips and enhances the experience.
Soundtrack: “Rudies Don’t Fear” by Derrick Morgan
Alipús, San Juan del Rio (Espadín) $45
A really unique espadin that’s on the savory side – dried herbs, charred broccoli, black pepper dominate first sips. But this mezcal is still wonderfully balanced with notes of lemon and sweet roasted agave.
Pairing/How to Serve: Works amazingly with grilled fish or small bites, like jicama with salt and lime, and fresh pico de gallo. Salinity really brings out its sweet and savory flavor profile.
Soundtrack: “El Estuche” by Aterciopelados
Nuestra Soledad – Lachigui Miahuatlán (Espadín) $55
The Nuestra Soledad line comes from a famed mezcalero who produces some of the most coveted mezcals in Mexico – so, it’s a steal when you can find it at your local wine shop. This particular bottle runs slightly hot for beginner mezcal drinkers (49% abv), but retains an amazing array of bright flavors: melon, fresh fruit, wood, and earth are most prominent. It also has a pleasant long finish.
Pairing/How to Serve: Great to bring to a cookout; the heat of the alcohol is best tempered with heartier summer fare, like barbecued chicken.
Soundtrack: “My Place” by The Adverts
Del Maguey Single Village – Minero (Espadín) $68
Hand-mashed and distilled in traditional clay stills, Minero is a rustic favorite we recommend to aspiring mezcal drinkers. An arid, semi-tropical microclimate gives it a refreshing floral nose, with flavors grounded in vanilla, honey and citrus.
Pairing/How to Serve: Minero works well with fresh cheese – Mexican cheeses like quesillo or queso fresco work beautifully with the warmer honey notes present in this mezcal. Fresh mozzarella or ricotta would also work nicely.
Soundtrack: “E.V.P.” by Blood Orange
Vago Mexicano (Mexicano) $85
Mexicano is a more rare species of agave, so it’s going to deviate in complexity from most espadins, which is the most common varietal used to make mezcal. A floral bouquet opens up to a rich silky body of flavors like peaches, cinnamon, caramel, and raspberries. This bottle should be shared with people you really like and will definitely elevate your mezcal collection.
Pairing/How to Serve: This is a great anytime mezcal, but even better as a late-night summer sipper. Savor it under the stars with arroz con leche or a high-quality vanilla ice cream.
Soundtrack: “Don’t Break My Heart” by UB40
Real Minero Largo (Largo) $149
This is a ‘best day of my life’ bottle, made by fifth generation mezcaleros and distilled in clay – a really small production, rare mezcal that you’ll bring out for special occasions. Wild largo agave are grown in the mountains and give this a delicately complex palate of tropical fruits, pineapple and green olive brine.
Pairing/How to Serve: This is a mezcal that deserves your full attention. Sip and enjoy.
Soundtrack: “Let’s Start” (with Ginger Baker) [live] by Fela Kuti & The Africa ’70
Two Signature La Loba Cantina Mezcal Cocktails
When making mezcal cocktails, use an affordable cocktail-friendly bottle, like Fidencio, Classico or Del Maguey VIDA. These can be found at most wine shops or liquor stores.
1.5 oz mezcal
.75 oz Ancho Reyes (ancho chile liqueur)
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
.5 oz agave syrup
Salt the rim of a rocks glass. Measure and pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice in glass. Garnish with lime wheel.
2 oz mezcal
¼ of a dried arbol chile
.5 oz piloncillo syrup (1:1 piloncillo sugar:water)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 dash Angostura bitters
.25 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Muddle chili, syrup and strawberry in a shaker. Add mezcal, balsamic, bitters, and lime juice. Shake with ice. Double strain into coupe. Garnish with lime twist.
*substitute demerara sugar if you can’t find piloncillo (available in Mexican grocery stores)