We’ll take 12 ounces of a local craft brew any day. Heck, we won’t turn down a Bud Light. But when it comes to choosing a cocktail, nothing delivers more than mezcal. One sip of the undeniably boozy, agave-based spirit, and you’ll have your new order. When cocktail beginners pony up to the bar to meekly order a whiskey sour, ask the bartender for mezcal and share a you-know-what’s-up nod.
Think of it as tequila’s multifaceted brother. While tequila comes only from the blue agave plant, mezcal can be traced back to one of dozens of types of agave—and the range of flavors is just as vast. You’ll find some fruit notes, but more likely you’ll look to mezcal for its smokiness—think dried chiles, chipotle spices, and roasted red peppers.
It’s 2015, and mezcal’s influence has reached far beyond its Mexican origins. Here, we touch down in three cities and explore three distinct interpretations. Not near San Francisco, Chicago, or New York City? Challenge your local bartender to test his chops. Then, sit back, take a sip, and take it all in.
Acapulco – Manila: La Urbana, San Francisco
Mezcal is not one-size-fits-all. No one knows that better than the experts at La Urbana. Home to what’s got to be the city’s widest mezcal range, the Mexican spot carries well north of 50 varieties behind its bar. Order one straight, or work your way into the complex flavors with the Acapulco – Manila cocktail. The sharp mezcal-and-sake combination shows how a Mexican bar does a martini. We’ll never look at the silver bullet the same way.
Buried Alive: The Dawson, Chicago
A local favorite for The Tie Bar team (its dangerously close to our office), The Dawson’s pork-jerky-infused version of the spirit is on steroids. And we’re not complaining. Combined with tequila, bitters, and a sweet-and-tart mix of fruit jam and lemon, no sip is the same. The cocktail is served in individual ceramic pots made by a local artist, making it damn-near a work of art. Here’s betting you become a collector.
Smoked and Roasted: The Wayland, New York City
Taking a sharp turn from the rich interpretation at The Dawson, New York City’s The Wayland crafted a balance of the signature smokiness with the just right amount of sweetness. Fresh pineapple and lemon meet a kick of mezcal, chipotle-infused agave nectar, and chili salt. Refreshing but bold, two qualities we can get behind.