Artisanal Mezcal and Northwest Tequila Fest 2014

 

Setting up for the artisanal mezcal tasting

Mezcal is one of those spirits like smoky Islay Scotch that evokes strong opinions from anyone who’s tried it. It has bold flavor, and like Islay Whisky, the most common description that comes to mind is “smokey.”  Beyond that, however, the tastes are very different. I’ve dabbled in mezcal for a while, but recently attended a Northwest Tequila Fest session here in Seattle, where I gained a whole new level of understanding and enthusiasm for mezcal. Here are some highlights and takeaways from the event, including why mezcal is among the best values in spirits today, despite its relatively higher price.
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Bartender! There’s Chile in my Tiki Drink (The Aztec Warrior)

Recently I had the good fortune to be at Rob Roy in Seattle on a night that Brady Sprouse was tending bar. I’ve enjoyed Brady’s previous work at Smith and have wonked out on a few occasions with him about craft cocktail ingredients and such. After the abnormally busy Thursday night crowd died down I asked Brady to make me something off-menu and of his choosing. What he delivered to me was a mezcal-based Old Fashioned variation that included Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur.

Ancho Reyes is a relatively new spirit from Mexico, flavored primarily by the ancho chile. Up till this point I’d never tried it so Brady offered me a small sample of it, neat. I anticipated that it was going to be fairly spicy but I was pleasantly surprised when it had a mild to medium heat and enough sweet and other spice elements to make it easily sippable.

As I nursed my drink, the thought “Hey, this might be interesting in Tiki!” popped into my head. I mentioned this off-handedly to Brady and he immediately replied “I’ve got an interesting idea along those lines if you’re willing to try it.” Never one to forego mixological experimentation I said “Sure!”

Brady went to work with his magical bottles, and other then a quick dash of Smith and Cross at the end, I saw no rum appear. What he eventually set in front of me had the full on Tiki mug treatment, so that was encouraging. I naturally asked about the ingredients and was most surprised that he used the Ancho Reyes as a base spirit. Turning back to the Ancho bottle in front of me, I saw it was indeed 80 proof, and subsequent research shows that the primary ingredient is “neutral cane spirits”, which I’m going to call close enough to rum for this discussion.

Finally taking a sip, a smile crossed my face. The chile spice is definitely present but doesn’t dominate and it’s unquestionably a tiki-style drink. Brady was nice enough to jot down the recipe, which he quickly dubbed the “Aztec Warrior.” If you’re a tiki-wonk you’ll notice a certainly similarity to the Jet Pilot, one of the house specialties at Casa CocktailWonk. The primary difference between the Aztec Warrior and the Jet Pilot are that the rums are swapped out for Ancho Reyes and Batavia Arrack.

Aztec Warrior (Brady Sprouse)

  • 1.5 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Licor
  • .5 oz Batavia Arrack
  • .5 oz rich cinnamon syrup
  • .5 oz Falernum (Use alcohol-based, house made, rather than Velvet Falernum)
  • .75 oz grapefruit
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • .25 oz Smith and Cross (for the float)

Combine everything except the Smith & Cross. Shake, pour over crushed ice. Float the Smith & Cross, then garnish with a dash of Angostura Bitters and whatever Tiki-like garnish you like.

South of the Border Zombie

With Mrs CocktailWonk off in Europe this week touring faucet factories and perusing liquor stores on my behalf, I’ve been catching up on some quality bar time around Seattle. However I’d been ignoring my home bar and by Friday I was feeling some homemade Tiki was in order (surprise!) but with an upcoming visit to Tacoma Cabana in my very near future, I knew the rum bases were covered. I’ve always considered rum and tequila to be kindred spirits and I enjoy a hearty, smoky mescal nearly as much as an ultra-funky Jamaican rum. My mind went to the Zombie and the wheels started to turn.

The short version of the Zombie recipe is multiple rums, Apricot Liqueur, pineapple and lime juice. My goal was to replace them with ingredients more associated with Mexico while keeping it balanced and hewing to the Zombie pattern, and I’m pretty happy with the results:

South of the Border Zombie

South of the Border Zombie

  • 1oz Cabeza (blanco tequila)
  • 1oz Sombra mescal
  • 1oz Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
  • 1oz Damiana
  • 1oz Grapefruit

Shake, pour over crushed ice in a chilled glass. Liberally dash Peychaud’s bitter over the top of the ice.

The Cabeza is a good quality blanco tequila, singing background to the other players here. The Sombra provides a healthy dose of mezcal smokiness. To me, it’s the mescal equivalent of Smith and Cross rum.

The Crema de Mezcal bears special note here – It’s not a regular mescal. Rather, it’s 90% mescal, and 10% agave syrup so it’s much sweeter than a mescal. It’s fantastic to sip straight or simply add a bit of lime juice and you’ve got something akin to a smoky margarita. I relied on the Crema de Mezcal sweetness to help balance out the sour from the lime, so factor that in if you substitute for it.

For the pineapple juice component of a Zombie, I used grapefruit juice like the Paloma, another well-known Mexican drink. Grapefruit juice isn’t as sweet as pineapple juice, but the Crema de Mezcal helps to bring up the overall sweetness. Lastly, the Damiana replaces the Zombie’s apricot liqueur. Damiana is a Mexican herbal liqueur flavored primarily from the Damiana tea leaf. It falls into the same herbal flavor category as spirits like chartreuse or Benedictine, and is moderately sweet in its own right.

The South of the Border Zombie is well balanced and with four different spirits, packs a punch like the original Zombie. You get a dose of smokiness but it’s not overwhelming. It’s not overly sweet, and some people might enjoy it with a touch more Crema de Mezcal or simple syrup to up the sweet to sour ratio.