Move Over Tequila, Mezcal Takes Center Stage

Move Over Tequila, Mezcal Takes Center Stage

Wall Street Journal By Charles Passy

March 28, 2017

The Mexican spirit mezcal is considered a specialty sip, unlike tequila, its high-profile, cocktail-friendly cousin. That is, mezcal generally is enjoyed on its own—no margaritas, please—by a select group of aficionados, who talk up its distinctly smoky taste and other subtler flavors.

But on Monday night at Temerario, a Mexican restaurant in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, mezcal was the drink that took center stage. The occasion was a $40-a-ticket tasting event hosted by Panorama Mezcal, a New York company that has made popularizing the spirit, which is derived from the agave plant, its mission through such showcases.

The event attracted representatives from about 15 mezcal brands, who offered samples to several dozen enthusiasts. The emphasis was on the craft side, as in distillers who make as few as 700 bottles of each mezcal they produce, a far cry from the mass-market tequilas that dominate the world of Mexican spirits. (Technically, tequila, which is derived from a specific variety of agave, is considered a type of mezcal, though the spirits industry generally puts the two in separate categories.)

The artisanal emphasis is the way it should be with mezcal, said Tess Rose Lampert, a spirits expert who worked with Panorama on the event. “If someone is making a lot of mezcal, they’re doing it wrong,” she said.

Ms. Lampert pointed out the differences among mezcals, noting that some had delicate, floral-like qualities, while others were creamy and unctuous. Although Ms. Lampert didn’t diminish mezcal’s smoky side, she said the best offerings go beyond that.

“It’s not always a mouthful of campfire,” she said.

Monday’s event spoke to a growing mezcal fervor in New York City. A number of bars have opened in the past few years, including Rosa Mexicano’s Masa y Agave in Tribeca and Leyenda in Brooklyn, that shine a spotlight on the spirit. At Masa y Agave, for example, more than 100 mezcals are offered.

At such bars, mezcal often is used in cocktails, but at Monday’s event, mezcal purists insisted on going the solo route. They balked at the idea of downing the spirit in a single gulp, saying mezcal should be savored, especially given that many of the ones on the market cost $50 and up.

“With tequila, you do shots,” said Victor Tellez, a representative for Pierde Almas, a mezcal brand featured at Monday’s tasting. “With mezcal, you’re supposed to kiss it.”

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