September 20, 2011 / 1:30 PM / 7 years ago

The Spirited Traveller: Mezcal's moment in Mexico City

( - Lucky is the tippler who is Mexico City-bound: there’s no shortage of good things to drink here.

Bottles of Scorpion Silver Mezcal are shown in this publicity photo obtained on September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Handout

Of course, tequila is abundant, as are refreshing beer-based Micheladas. But the tipple of the moment is mezcal, an agave-based spirit similar to tequila, pit-roasted to bring out magnificent smoky tones.

“What’s trending now in Mexico is the mezcalerias,” says Junior Merino, a cocktail consultant and New York resident who was born in Mexico and travels to Mexico City frequently with his cocktail consulting company, The Liquid Chef.

“A lot of people are opening places dedicated to mezcal, no tequila. You find artisanal products, different varieties; sometimes the bottles don’t even have labels.”

Although mezcal-based cocktails are on the ascendance, the traditional way to drink mezcal is straight up, accompanied by sliced oranges sprinkled with Chile salt, often mixed with powdered gusano (a worm that feeds on the agave plant).

Until recently, mezcal had a bad reputation. “People would say, ‘it’s for the construction workers,’” Merino recalls. “But now it’s got a really good image.” Meanwhile, prices for mezcal have escalated out of the range of many construction workers.

The newly developed business district of Santa Fe has attracted a number of new restaurant outposts from the U.S., such as Nobu (<>) and China Grill (<here>), suitable for sipping mezcal and other tipples (the latter is noted for its molecular mixology programme).

Merino's picks also include Dulce Patria (<>), a restaurant known for its playful, culinary-inspired cocktails, also in Santa Fe, and Izote (Av. Presidente Masaryk 513) in the upscale Polanco district.

How to Drink Mezcal (Courtesy of Junior Merino)

Two substitutions are made here to allow for those planning to try mezcal outside of Mexico. Although Merino recommends flavourful Chile Anaranja (“Orange Chile”) to make spiced salt, a smaller amount of smoky chipotle powder can be substituted. Similarly, here, sugar is used to approximate the sweetness of gusano (dried and powdered agave worm).

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/10 teaspoon chipotle powder

1/20 teaspoon sugar

Oranges, cut into two-inch thick slices, then sliced again in half

2 ounces mezcal

In a small bowl, combine salt, chipotle powder and sugar. Fan out the oranges on a plate, and sprinkle with the Chile salt.

Pour the mezcal into a large glass or snifter (one that holds about seven ounces of liquid - the goal is to provide plenty of space between the liquid and your nose). Gently swirl the mezcal to aerate it and maximize the aroma.

Suck on the oranges, and sip the mezcal.

Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here>. The opinions expressed are her own. Editing by Peter Myers

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